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Wildflower PUD postponed until August, provoking anger

Friday, February 13, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

On Thursday night, City Council voted 6-1 to postpone the controversial Wildflower PUD until August 20. Council Member Laura Morrison was the lone dissenter.

 

More than 90 people had signed up to speak in opposition to the development, which included a 100,000 sq. foot supermarket, retail, restaurants, and 550 condos in the Barton Springs Zone.

 

Environmentalist Robin Rather was the only person allowed to speak in front of the Council. And she told In Fact Daily that more should have had a chance. “It’s a treacherous misuse of people’s time,” she said. “I think at the end of the day, this Council is a pro-development Council. The action was led by Lee Leffingwell, who has a reputation for pragmatism. As far as most people in the environmental community are concerned, this is a stab in the back by the whole Council except for Laura [Morrison].”

 

Leffingwell declined to comment. In fact, the motion to postpone was proposed by Council Member Mike Martinez, a close ally of Leffingwell but Leffingwell did not speak while the item was being considered.

 

Leffingwell is facing fellow Council Member Brewster McCracken in the race for Mayor. Martinez is running unopposed for re-election. Both elections are on May 9, to be followed if necessary by a June runoff. The Council takes off the month of July but has one meeting on July 30 and three in August.

 

Rather was not the only environmentalist who saw the decision as relating to the mayoral election. Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch said there was more than enough blame to go around. “ You’ve got candidates who are running up there who showed particular lack of courage and willingness to dodge accountability and so that’s certainly a word that should be spread throughout the community.”

 

Asked who stood to gain or lose from the vote, Bunch said, “I think it showed an equal lack of leadership and commitment to protecting Barton Springs on the part of Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken,” he said. “I think it should help make clear that neither one of them are really committed to protecting the springs and taking a public stand so that voters can see what they really are. “

 

Council Member Mike Martinez introduced a motion to include postponement of the item as part of the consent agenda. Calling it a “very controversial, very difficult case,” Martinez said the delay would “allow the applicant to make modifications so it meets substantive requirements of our current new PUD ordinance before it comes back before Council.” In fact, the Council’s request for a redesign could de facto kill the project, if the developer isn’t able to meet the PUD ordinance.

 

Martinez said new information had come to light Monday, including questions about the impact of traffic at the development. In addition, Martinez said he wanted to examine open space dedication, protection of critical environmental features at the site, and water quality. Martinez said he wanted Council to see if the PUD would improve upon current zoning and the requirements of the Bradley Agreement.

 

By the time Martinez had finished, annoyed citizens were displaying several hand-made signs with a clear message: “Vote Now, Vote No!” and “Public Hearing Now!”

 

Mayor Will Wynn seconded Martinez’s motion. “Clearly the project case has problems,” he said. “This will be a chance for more specific comparative analysis as to how that could be substantially improved.”

 

Morrison said it was practice of the council to hear from people opposed to postponement, and Rather spoke on behalf of the assembled opponents against the delay. “This tract has been talked about to death over a long period of time,” she said. “I’m embarrassed to be standing up here tonight because I know exactly what is going on in this city. No one is saying ‘we want a high end destination mall in the most affluent part of town right on top of the aquifer in the heart of the recharge zone.’” The crowd cheered when she asked Council to vote the project down.

 

Wynn said they did not want to hear four hours of testimony if there were improvements that needed to be made. People in the crowd started shouting — pointing out the Council had already postponed the vote three times, and said the Council lacked conviction.

 

Morrison queried Martinez about what he meant by “substantial” changes. She said she was “hesitant to ask for an amendment to a motion I’m going to vote against,” but requested that the PUD should go through the Environmental Board and ZAP again, if the motion passed. “I’m not quite sure what this process does for us,” Morrison lamented

 

Wynn said he agreed with much of what she said, but reiterated that the Environmental Board and ZAP had voted in favor of the PUD, albeit without the recent traffic information.

 

When votes were cast, only Morrison voted no on the postponement motion.

 

Steve Drenner, attorney for the developer, could not be reached for comment.

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