Most Popular Stories
Discover News By District
Commission, neighborhood call for regulation of Lake Austin trams
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 by Austin Monitor
On Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation Department Board voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for the Austin City Council to consider more stringent regulation of trams along
The resolution explicitly asks, “City Council and Planning Commission consider amending the Land Development code to require the review and permitting… and ensure consistent regulation and procedures for the construction of trams.”
The Lake Austin Coalition, made up of neighborhood groups, brought the matter to the board’s attention. They are concerned about the environmental health of
Hal Engelhardt, a licensed elevator contractor, said his company Austin Dock and Tram, had constructed some of the trams along
Engelhardt defended the trams, saying they have “a flawless safety record” and insisted that they didn’t adversely affect wildlife, pollution or water quality. Nonetheless, he repeatedly told the directors he favored a permitting process. “I’m all for permitting trams. I think there needs to be regulations,” he told In Fact Daily.
There’s a reason for that. Engelhardt says when his client recently lost $20,000 because the city bureaucracy didn’t know how to approve a tram. He said the city first required a 50-page document, which he showed to the board, to build a 400-foot tram near Mansfield Dam. “Basically, what I had to do to build this tram is the same thing you’d have to do to build a shopping mall or apartment complex,” he said. It included a site plan, environmental impact study and traffic surveys.
Engelhardt said that after he had designed a site plan, the city’s Planning Commission and Watershed Protection and Development Review staffer John McDonald “handed it back to me and said no permit necessary and no site plan necessary, go build the tram.” Engelhardt called the effort “a total waste.”
Bruce Aupperle, an engineer who has worked with several tram projects, said McDonald had sent him an email saying that he did not need any permits or site plans to construct a tram because it was an “accessory” building not attached to a house, garage or boathouse. (McDonald no longer works for the agency.)
Marceline Lasater, an
Assistant City Attorney Holly Noelke said site plans are required when Critical Environmental Features may be affected and said that trams come up every 10-15 years and “as staff changes, the approach seems to change.” She said that an administrative variance could be an option, but it would have to show that construction preserved all the environmental characteristics.
Commissioners did amend the language in the resolution to read “
“Where does that leave me today? Do I go back to work?” Engelhardt asked out loud when the voting was done. There is no timetable for when Council or any other committee may rule on the trams or the resolution.
City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy said that although trams do not need a building permit, they would still be required to abide by the city’s zoning regulations. He did say that the lack of a permitting process meant there was not a process for reviewing and verifying if the development meets the regulations.
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?