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Council postpones water service extension over lack of information

Friday, December 16, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite a plea by the landowner, City Council voted to postpone a water service extension request Thursday after being left unsatisfied by the information provided to them by staff.


Council Member Laura Morrison pulled the item, service for a proposed retail shopping center on FM 620 in the Bull Creek Watershed and the Drinking Water Protection Zone. She wanted more information about the request but getting that information from staff proved a difficult task.


“I need to be in a position where I am able to get the answers I need from staff, and I’m sorry that we weren’t able to get these questions out there sooner for them to be able to answer them,” said Morrison. “I do feel like this may be a significant decision, and I’m not comfortable making it without the information.”


The property is located at the ETJ at the intersection of FM 620 and Foundation Road. Because the land was platted before code was established, it is grandfathered under a state law known as 1704. It does not need to, and does not plan to, comply with current code.


If the property were not grandfathered, development would be restricted to 40 percent impervious cover. Developers plan to build a retail shopping center on the approximately 5-acre lot, which will be at about 54 percent impervious cover.


Morrison’s concerns were echoed by the Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who initially was opposed to a postponement. The mayor changed his mind after hearing conflicting information about whether the item had support from the Water and Wastewater Commission. Additionally, the Environmental Board’s recommendation was not included.


Council Member Chris Riley shared the mayor’s concerns, “We really need to get better help from staff on this. There is no mention of the Environmental Board anywhere in the backup, and now we have incorrect info about the Water and Wastewater Commission. I would have been fine, and opposed the postponement, but we can’t even get accurate information from out own staff about what our boards and commissions are doing.”


City Council voted 7-0 to postpone the item, following in the footsteps of the Environmental Board, who postponed the item three times previously.


Ultimately, the Environmental Board voted 5-0 to recommend the request, with two members absent.


David Juarez, the assistant director of water resources planning and analysis, explained the decision by the board, saying, “The rationale they used was that they would rather have service provided by the city of Austin than drill wells that may damage the headwaters of Bull Creek.”


“It was postponed due to questions they wanted a city attorney to answer, whether with 1704 they could request things for us to do separate in order to get water service,” said Bobbie Jo Cornelius of Site Specifics, agent for the property owner. “It was postponed a second time because legal didn’t show up… With the third time we were postponed because they canceled the meeting. So we’ve been in this process a very long time. Legal came back to them and they all voted to approve it because they couldn’t put restrictions on us to give us water. It wasn’t a trading issue.”


The site is over the recharge zone for the Northern Edwards Aquifer as recognized by the city. However, it is outside the recharge zone as recognized by TCEQ, and is consequently not subject to their developmental regulations (also known as the “Edwards Rules.”)


The water service extension request will allow them to build a 510-foot, 12-inch diameter pipeline, tying into the (24-inch) transmission main along FM 620 that is currently under construction.


Cornelius told City Council that approval of the service request was the only issue holding up construction.


“Our impervious cover is way under 70 percent. We’ve shown the whole site plan development and gone through all the review, we have gotten all our other permits, and a month delay is really financially burdening my client. He does have another site with a well, he knows all about having well water, and he has said that if he doesn’t get the extension, he will drill a well. It will not stop the development,” said Cornelius.


“We have a builder and contractor ready to go, and everyone will just be sitting and waiting another month,” said Cornelius.


“I find it hard to believe that through the Christmas holidays you’re gonna go full bore on a well and a construction project,” said Council Member Mike Martinez, who expressed some concern that additional postponement could cause the owner to drill a well instead.


Cornelius told In Fact Daily that the owner did not yet have a permit for a well.


“We’ll wait until January and see. I mean, it’s better for the environment for it to be city water. The water is already there… we are in their service area. A well is just putting a whole in the ground which then could allow pollutants in the water. So, you know that’s not our goal, to have well water,” Cornelius told In Fact Daily.

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