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Travis County officials eye deal with developers

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Developers for a large area of land in eastern Travis County are lining up to help offset some of the transportation costs that would be associated with their respective projects. The deal, which is being called a regional phasing agreement, would represent a major change in the way counties traditionally deal with infrastructure costs.

 

But roads are not the only concern. Two Travis County Commissioners had questions Tuesday about the water supply for least one of the pending developments.

 

Anna Bowlin, a division director with Travis County’s Transportation and Natural Resources department, explained the implications of the move to In Fact Daily. “Counties in Texas don’t have the authority to do an impact fee for transportation and, essentially…(with) this regional phasing agreement . . . the development community would voluntarily be agreeing (to levee) an impact fee on themselves,” she said.

 

Attorney Terry Irion represents the group behind the Eastwood development. In a March 11 letter, he wrote that officials from that project as well as the Wolf tract, Whisper Valley, Wildhorse, and Central Park have been engaged in talks with governmental and private entities including the City of Manor, Travis County, CAMPO, and the Park Springs Neighborhood association since July of 2009.

 

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a preliminary plan for the Eastwood subdivision. If completed, that project would be built between FM 973 and Blake-Manor Road in eastern Travis County. This would put it in heart of the area that would be affected by the agreement.

 

As part of their deliberations, commissioners heard just how much that region may grow over the next 15 to 20 years. Park Springs Neighborhood Association President John Williams detailed the potential demographics of the future Eastwood, Wolf tract, and Whisper Valley projects.

 

“Eastwood alone is a large development, we’re talking 660-some acres,” he said. “The Wolf tract is much smaller, only 200-some acres. But directly south of the Eastwood development is Whisper Valley…just these three together amount to almost 3,000 acres, more than 10,000 residential units and nearly 2 million square feet of retail and commercial space.”

 

Williams noted that each of these developments is serviced by “only one or two” of three two-lane roads: FM 973, Blake-Manor Road, and Taylor Lane. “I think the figures speak for themselves about the need for improvements in infrastructure,” he added.  

 

Irion explained his clients’ incentives in his letter. “While none of the developers of these projects are legally required to do so, unless the private sector agrees to participate with the public sector in identifying priority (transportation) needs, and investing in those priorities, none of the needed road improvements are likely to happen,” he wrote.

 

Irion added that his clients have offered “to continue the dialogue with…stakeholders in developing a regional phasing agreement in which all non-exempt development projects (those in excess of 10 acres in size) would contribute into a transportation improvement fund.”

 

Irion admitted that such a fund “might never collect enough money to build one of these projects in its entirety.” However, he said that the mere existence of such support “should make it easier for the County and State to raise matching funds to implement construction of such high priority roads.”

 

“In this situation we know that there’s a problem in this area,” said Bowlin. “This model could be something that could be applied elsewhere in the county where there are similar transportation issues.”

 

Bowlin told the commissioners that she expected to be able to report back to them on the regional phasing agreement in the next couple of months.

 

Even with an agreement on transportations costs, commissioners remained concerned about at least one of the projects’ infrastructure-related issues. Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber pointed out that the planned Manville source for the Eastwood development’s water is alluvial. This fact could mean that the project would have to deal with gravel mining and shallow well issues.

 

“I think that all developers out there ought to be aware that these water supplies are uncertain,” she said.

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