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Environmental Board votes yes on Lazy 9 variance request

Thursday, April 15, 2010 by Mark Richardson

Finishing a hearing that began last month, the Environmental Board approved a controversial variance request Wednesday night to allow the Lazy 9 Municipal Utility District to construct an effluent detention pond for a West Travis County housing development. Environmentalists oppose the project, saying treated sewage from the site could eventually find its way into the Edwards Aquifer.


However, after a great deal of discussion, the board added conditions to the approval, including the implementation by the developer of a habitat restoration plan for the 104-acre site, and that developers make the land available for study by an ecological program run by the State of Texas.


The planned Lazy 9 development will include some 1,800 homes located on a 1,048-acre tract of land in Travis County along SH 71 west of Bee Cave. The development is out of the city’s ETJ, but treated effluent will be piped from the development to the detention pond in a nearby tract of land, where the city does have jurisdiction over water quality.


The Environmental Board postponed action on the variance at its March 7 meeting after members, concerned over the affect the spraying of treated effluent on the area might have on the former cow pasture, said they needed more information in order to make a decision. (See In Fact Daily, March 8, 2010) At the invitation of the developers, six of the seven board members visited the site in between meetings to look at features such as the topography, soil density, and proximity to small tributaries that empty into Little Barton Creek, which drains into the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.


SOS Alliance Director Bill Bunch repeated his group’s objection to the variance, noting that the effluent sprayed on the area could easily seep down into the creek without proper protections.


“The quality of how well the area is maintained is important,” he said, noting that the Lazy 9 developers have been cited for runoff pollution by Travis County and other entities. “They have a really poor track record in that area.”


After city staff and the developer’s representative reviewed the particulars of the case, board members sought reassurances that the site would be kept in as pristine a condition as possible after the detention pond is built.


“When I was at the site, I noticed a large amount of King Ranch Blue Stem plants in the area,” said Board Member Jon Beall. “Those are not native plants. I understand you may be double-seeding the area with native plants. Will that get rid of the non-native species?”


Lazy 9 Attorney Terry Irion and MUD Engineer Rick Wheeler had no immediate plan to deal with the weeds, but Beall invited Steve Windhager, director of landscape restoration at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, to speak about ways to improve the tract of land.


“It would be virtually impossible to get rid of the King Ranch blue stems simply by over-seeding the area with native plants,” Windhager said. “They best way to control the weeds is through a controlled burn of the area before the growing season, before mid-summer. Controlled burns have been known to eradicate up to 90 percent of unwanted plants, while bringing back native grasses in a few weeks, depending on the weather.”


Board members seemed to like the idea of a controlled burn and encouraged the developers to work with Windhager to improve the grassland.


Board Member Phil Moncada, who had expressed serious doubts about the project at last month’s meeting, seemed to have most of his questions about the project answered between his visit to the site and Wednesday’s presentations.


“After visiting the site, I’m comfortable with the location of the detention pond,” he said. “It is in a fairly flat area of the property. I don’t believe I saw more than a 2 percent grade anywhere in the area where the pond is planned.”


Initially, Beall said he was considering a motion to again delay a vote on the variance until the developers could come up with a habitat plan for the 104-acre site. But other board members didn’t seem interested in another delay, and Member Mary Ann Neely suggested that Beall’s suggestion be added to a motion to approve with conditions.


Beall then made a motion to approve the variance, with the conditions that Lazy 9 add a habitat plan and make the site available for research. Members voted 7-0 to okay the variance, which now goes before the City Council.

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