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County seeks public input program for Colorado River Corridor plan

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners’ Court last week authorized county officials to take their vision for the development of an eastern slice of the county out for public input. The effort, called the Colorado River Corridor Plan, envisions the eventual growth of a largely rural area that bears the distinction of hosting the controversial Texas Industries (TXI) gravel mining operation, as well as several other such projects.


Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told In Fact Daily that the plan offered the county “the best hope we have for getting out of mining sooner than later and in the most attractive urban planning posture.”


The county has no regulatory authority over the region that the plan addresses. This means that, even if the plan wins court approval, it can only serve as a guideline for development.


Still, at least one neighborhood leader is concerned about some aspects of the plan. Richard MacDonald, a long time opponent of TXI gravel mining, said he was concerned that because TXI was involved in the corridor plan it would have a conflict of interest.


MacDonald also suggested that the plan would result in a direct benefit for TXI. According to MacDonald, the designated CAMPO activity center of the Colorado River Corridor would move from its historical location along FM 969 to the Rio de Vida development. Rio de Vida, which could host as many as 8,000 homes, is the ultimate re-purposing of a longtime sand and gravel mine.


TXI is intimately involved in the project.


The activity centers portion of CAMPO’s 2035 plan focuses future regional development around a host of geographic centers. “They want you to declare that the center of all those pits and mounds and dirt and stuff, which is nothing now, to be the activity center of that area,” said MacDonald. “But it’s not. All the people live both sides of 969.”


Eckhardt told MacDonald that he was, in spirit at least, dead on. “As we’ve discussed before, we don’t have sticks with regard to our power…we only have carrots,” she said. “Your perception that carrots are being thrown in order to raise the standard of development and mitigate the negative effects…you are absolutely right, we are throwing carrots.”


The county contracted with private local private planning firm Bosse Pharris to develop the plan. Bosse Pharris also assisted TXI in the development of the Rio de Vida project.


Firm principal Stefan Pharris separated the region into three types of development: Rural, medium intensity (or neighborhood), and urban. He noted that, of the 30,000 acres of land covered by the plan, 11,000 has been, is currently, or will be mined. Seven thousand of those acres are expected to end such activity within the next five years.


He explained that a new mining technique, called concurrent reclamation, allows for quicker developmental turnaround. Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources department head Steve Manilla put it simply. “They probably could make more money off the land if they set it up and show people how they can make money themselves,” he said.

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