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Council approves putting Mueller substation on golf course

Friday, March 26, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

On Thursday, the City Council approved the construction of a long-awaited substation to distribute power to the Mueller development and surrounding neighborhoods. Under the terms of the resolution Austin Energy will use approximately 5.87 acres of the Morris Williams Golf Course on Manor Road for an electric substation, electric transmission lines, distribution lines, and a drainage area.


In order to accommodate the station, the Parks and Recreation Department will have to move the course’s 14th hole and reroute a cart path. In return for the use of the land, AE will pay PARD $1.5 million to renovate the course. AE will also transfer the deed of a 4.43-acre parcel it owns on 51st Street (one of several other proposed sites for the substation over the last decade) to PARD, install up to $250,000 of solar panels on the course, and provide landscaping around the substation.


Sonny Poole, Austin Energy’s acting manager of public involvement and real estate, told the Council that there are two major benefits to building the substation on the golf course: First, unlike the 51st Street location, which would require AE to build two transmission lines to and from the site, the golf course site would require fewer poles and would not put those poles on city streets. Second, Poole said, AE would be contributing to the improvement of a “major community asset” through its contribution to the Parks and Recreation Department for the easement rights. The proposed improvements, he said, “will revive this wonderful golf course to a first-class status. The improved golf course will be an amenity for all the neighborhoods.”


Austin Energy spent more than a year trying to find a location for the substation.


But not everyone was pleased with the resolution.


Stephanie Tsen, past president of the Pecan Springs Springdale Hills Neighborhood Association, said that her neighborhood association was “willing to locate the Mueller substation in our back yard as long as it’s a win for us too.” She then listed off “contingencies” that she and her association wanted added to the proposal, including: a guarantee that the proposed renovations proceed and be completed without delay; community participation in the form of a project advisory committee “for the planning and design of the substation”; connections between their neighborhood and surrounding neighborhood green spaces; sidewalks on Manor Road from Airport Boulevard to 51st Street; and a guarantee that the area around the substation will be kept clean.


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez acknowledged that the Morris Williams solution was not a perfect one but said the he believed that it created a good balance between providing sorely needed (and otherwise financially untenable) improvements to a public golf course while meeting the needs of Austin Energy. He also stressed that Austin Energy substations are necessary to helping grow the entire city, not just the Mueller subdivision.


“We’re a community,” he said. “(The station and the improvements) are for everybody in Austin. It’s ‘Austin Energy’; it’s not ‘Mueller Energy.’ It’s part of how we grow as a community.”


Council Member Sheryl Cole agreed, saying, “I understand the difficulty of the situation and the very, very long history that has gone into trying to locate this substation. And it’s just a result of growth. And while we may not like growth, growth means tax base, and tax base means revenue, and revenue means more parks and libraries.


“We’re getting a win for golf and a win for Austin Energy,” said Council Member Laura Morrison.


Addressing some citizens’ concerns about the aesthetic impact of the substation, Council Member Bell Spelman asked Poole if Austin Energy had considered putting those poles underground. Poole responded that they had but that they had determined that doing so would cost an extra six or seven million dollars.


“One hundred and ten thousand dollars aboveground,” Spelman responded, “or six to seven million dollars if you were to put them underground?”


“Yes, sir.”


“Okay,” said Spelman, “that’s all I need to know about that.” 


With that, Mayor Lee Leffingwell proposed a friendly amendment to Martinez’s motion directing the city manager to coordinate with neighborhood associations and other groups and get their input on the design of the substation and the surrounding landscaping.  Council then voted unanimously in favor of the proposal. 


Council then quickly approved a zoning proposal for the Mueller substation and two budgetary proposals related to its construction on the golf course.

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