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One member’s vote means no board decision for Lake Travis subdivision

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The Environmental Board faced some hard choices Wednesday in considering whether to recommend variances to allow construction of a small residential subdivision on Lake Travis. In the end, the board chose to make no recommendation.


At issue was a request for variances from the city Land Development Code to build six high-end houses on 5.65 acres east of Commanders Point Yacht Basin on Agarita Cove on the lake’s main body. The property is outside the city limits, but within its five-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction. The case first came to the board on May 6, but the board delayed action after raising questions about the project’s impervious cover and proposed water quality protection measures.


The city’s 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 impervious cover on the lots would average 51 percent.


Staff of the city Watershed Protection and Development Review Department recommended against the development, saying that the subdivision would have unreasonably high impervious cover and would set a bad precedent.


On the other hand, representatives for the developer, the Estates at Commanders Point, said the project would have a number of amenities, including green building, connection to central sewer, and bio-filtration ponds to capture water runoff and protect water quality.


The developer initially planned a 50-unit high-rise condo complex at the site, but abandoned that proposal when neighbors complained about the condo’s size, height and traffic. However, Aaron Googins of King Engineering, representing the developer, said the condo site plan recently had been resubmitted to the city in the event the subdivision project did not get approved. (The condo site plan is in early stages of review, according to city staff. Condos at that site would be limited to 20 percent impervious cover.)


News of the re-submittal bothered some board members. John Dupnik recalled that at the May 6 meeting a neighborhood leader had referred to the subdivision as “pleasant blackmail” because it was far preferable to the condos.


“I hope this hasn’t gone from friendly blackmail to blackmail,” Dupnik said.


When it postponed the case on May 6, the board requested that city staff and the developer jointly explore further reductions in impervious cover, determine the adequacy of water quality control measures, and look at ways  to ensure that water quality controls would be maintained properly. Staff came up with an idea to build five houses and use the sixth lot to build a water quality control pond. The developer rejected that as economically unfeasible, Googan said.


Meanwhile, project managers submitted data to the city on the filtration ponds that would be built on each lot. Staff concluded that the ponds would meet city water quality standards. The developer also agreed to use a restrictive covenant that would require people who buy the homes to maintain the water quality ponds.


But some board members were not convinced. Board member Jon Beall made a motion to recommend against the variance application because it would not meet current code, either in density or for construction on slopes over 15 percent grade. Beall’s motion was defeated 4 to 3, with board Chair Mary Gay Maxwell casting the deciding vote.


Next, board member Phil Moncada made a motion to approve the variances, given that the project would take a number of measures to protect the environment. That motion also was defeated 4 to 3, with Maxwell once again casting the deciding vote.


The issue will move to the Zoning and Platting Commission on June 2 without any recommendation from the Environmental Board. With ZAP approval, the developers could move ahead with the project. If the ZAP rejects the project, the developers could appeal to the City Council.

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