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Council members concerned about Carma Development ahead of vote

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 by Austin Monitor

On Thursday, the Austin City Council is scheduled to decide whether to support or oppose legislation that would create five districts akin to municipal utility districts in a 2,300-acre area in southeast Travis County within the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Carma Development is requesting the city’s consent and hopes to enter into an agreement with the city regarding water and wastewater service, among other things.


How the Council will vote is anybody’s guess. There was no backup material indicating staff’s position on the matter as of late Tuesday and the Council may not find out what the staff thinks until Thursday’s briefing in executive session. The city has hired attorney Lynn Sherman as outside counsel on the matter.


Council Member Laura Morrison said she has concerns about the districts, especially given all the problems Austin had in past decades with municipal utility districts. “Based on experience that we’ve had with MUDs and all — and this would be like a super MUD on steroids — I definitely have concerns,” Morrison said. “I’m real concerned about whether we really understand it well enough to be moving forward, whether we’ve got a broad enough review. I think that we have other options for these kinds of things.”


Morrison said the city recently approved a PID (public improvement district) policy for these kinds of developments. She said she was also concerned that if the city supported Carma there might be similar requests from other developers for similar deals. “And of course there’s the concern that the details are not filled in yet. The agreement has not yet been created.” She is also concerned because there will be little public information or input.


Brown Carroll’s Nikelle Meade and Andy Martin, attorneys for Carma, say the legislation, HB4500, would give the city and the developer plenty of time to work out the details of the agreement but if they fail to agree the city would not be damaged. Martin explained, “The bill as of now does not become effective until May 1, 2010 and will expire on May 2, 2010 unless the City Council has consented to creation of the districts,” Martin explained. If no agreement is reached, he said, “then the chapter which creates the district expires as if it never happened.”


It is in Carma’s best interest to play nice with the city because Carma wants the city to provide water and wastewater service.


Council Member Randi Shade said, “I think the developer has a good track record but I think that there are questions. I think that the city should have an interest in influencing the kind of development that goes on in the ETJ . . . whether or not I can support it remains to be seen.”


Meade and Martin said the new draft reflects the city’s concerns about how to protect its interests.


Council Member Lee Leffingwell said the representatives of the developer had been making the rounds and talking to Council members about changes in the law that creates the district. “We’ve heard about them verbally but I haven’t seen any draft of it myself … It does seem to me at this point that changes are ongoing and everything needs to be pretty well settled before the Council should go on record as supporting something like that. ”


Asked whether that meant that the Council would not want to take action on Thursday, Leffingwell said “I always try a to refrain from speaking for the Council. For me personally, I still have questions. “


Council Member Brewster McCracken had a different perspective. “My personal sense of this is on balance this is not that controversial of a case. Even though the legislation would give the district considerable latitude in governance and development, McCracken said he thought “basically they’re creating SH 130 legislation,” similar to what the city supported in the last session.

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