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Environmental Board approves variances for south Austin retreat

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Environmental Board helped advance long-delayed development of a proposed wedding and retreat center at 10140 and 10300 Old San Antonio Road last week. The board gave their seal of approval to environmental variances first granted by City Council in 2004.


In 1997, the city annexed the property. Seven years later, Council approved the environmental variances in return for the elimination of equestrian use and reduction in impervious cover, as they felt these factors negatively impacted water quality.


Unfortunately for the property owners, the variances were contingent on a site plan being developed within a certain time frame. This has not happened due to economic factors, forcing the property owners to seek city approval once again.


FEMA changed the flood plain map in 2008, complicating an extension of the variances and site plan. Though the Planning Commission extended approval of the plan in October of last year, they were only able to do so through March of this year. This forced the property owners to return to City Council, which in turn instructed the Environmental Board and the Zoning and Platting Commission to review the case before extending the expiration date to December 23, 2011.


Paul Linehan said he has been on the case since 2006 and admitted that it has been “a long haul.” 


“A deal was made with the City Council to get horses and stables and manure off the creek. I kind of feel like a deal’s a deal. We’ve lived up to the letter of the law; we plan on continuing living up to the letter of the law,” Linehan told the commission.


“I’m not really planning on changing (the site plan) because I do, in my opinion, meet every aspect of the site plan except for one thing. In 2008, the FEMA floodplain moved,” said Linehan.


Mike McDougal, an environmental reviewer with the Planning Development and Review Department, explained that a request to build 12,000 square feet of impervious cover in the critical water quality zone was “a unique situation” but emphasized the added environmental controls that would be put in place by allowing the commercial development.


“The current use, it is a single-family residential. If this can be developed there would be superior water quality control, (and) there will be re-vegetation,” said McDougal. “It will be a commercial site, which means that there will be water quality monitoring.”


The Environmental Board recommended granting the environmental variances in a unanimous vote of 5-0, with Board members Eva Hernandez and Mary Ann Neely absent.


The case now heads to the Zoning and Platting Commission and will return to City Council by June 7.


“I’m looking forward to seeing if this is a retreat or wedding chapel or whatever, I just think it’s nice to be able to have these types of places still in Austin,” said Linehan, “I think it’s a really cool spot, and I’d like to go out there someday and sit on the lawn and have a beer and think about how many years it took me to get this done.”

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