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Developers seek major variance for Lake Travis subdivision

Thursday, May 14, 2009 by Bill McCann

Concerned about the impact of a proposed six-home subdivision on Lake Travis, the source of Austin’s drinking water, the Environmental Board on Wednesday decided to do more fact-finding before deciding whether to recommend a variance to allow the project.


At issue is a request by developers of a subdivision, called The Estates at Commanders Point, for a variance from the city Land Development Code to build the six houses on two tracts totaling 5.65 acres. The site is north of Mansfield Dam and east of Commanders Point Yacht Basin on Agarita Cove on the main body of the lake. It is outside the city limits, but within its five-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction.


The code requires an average of two acres of net site area for each lot for that location, but, as proposed, the six lots each would have a net site area of less than half an acre due to slopes and other factors. The developers either could build a total of two single-family homes or two duplexes at the site without a variance, or they would need a variance to build the six. They also would need a variance for building driveways on slopes greater than 15 percent.


Board members balked at the impervious cover levels that would occur if the variance were granted. Because the six proposed lots are different sizes, the impervious cover would range from 40 percent to 62.5 percent, for an average of 51 percent for the six lots. One major concern was whether water-runoff controls installed at each lot to capture sediment and help protect water quality would be adequate, given the density. 


Staff of the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department balked too, recommending against the variance request, according to Brad Jackson, senior environmental reviewer for the department.


Complicating the issue is the fact that the developer initially proposed a 50-unit high-rise condo complex at the site, but abandoned that proposal when neighbors voiced concerns about the size, height and traffic, according to Alice Glasco, agent for the developer. As an alternative, the developer came up with the six-home subdivision, which Glasco termed the minimum needed to make the project financially feasible. 


Glasco said the six houses would be compatible with the existing neighborhood. She also pointed out that the houses would receive central wastewater service – as opposed to installing septic tanks, and that the builder would comply with city green building standards, integrated pest management practices and water irrigation controls. The homes would be set back from the lake 100 feet, 25 feet more than required, she said. Each lot would have a bio-filter pond, using vegetation to separate out the sediment, she added.


Amor Forwood, president of the Big Hollow Neighborhood Association, supported the six-home subdivision, saying it was much preferable to the high-rise condo project, which “would damage the view of Lake Travis.”


Board members wrestled with several alternatives before settling on a motion by John Dupnik to postpone action to give the city and applicant time to explore further reductions in impervious cover and for the staff and board to get more details on water-quality control measures and mechanism that will be used by the new subdivision’s residents to ensure that water-quality controls are enforced. The board voted 5-0 on the motion, with two members absent.

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