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Environmental Board endorses PUD that exceeds city standards

Friday, January 25, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Environmental Board had the unexpected pleasure of endorsing a Planned Unit Development that sought stricter environmental standards than would be required if the property were developed under the standards currently in place.


Developers are planning to build 250 multifamily units, 8,000 square feet of general retail, 8,000 square feet of restaurants, 16,000 square feet of office space and a 105-bed congregate living facility that will cater to Alzheimer’s patients.


The Covered Bridge Planned Unit Development is proposed for slightly more than 38 acres located at the intersection of Covered Bridge Road and SH 71, just west of the Y at Oak Hill.


“We’re asking for something different than probably 99 percent of the cases you’ve ever heard, and that is the fact that we are developers coming in for a project, and we are asking for less, not more,” said consultant Ron Thrower. “We’re asking for less trips, we’re asking for less impervious coverage, we’re asking for a limit on cut and fill, where we have the freedom to do everything. We’re asking for limits on construction on slopes, where that doesn’t apply today.”


“We’re asking for less than what we have today. We’re just asking for some relocation of land uses on the property, and putting in measures to protect the environment,” said Thrower.


The mostly undeveloped property is in the Barton Springs Zone, as well as the Williamson Creek watershed and the Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone, and is currently broken into four tracts of land, and only one is subject to the Save Our Springs Ordinance. The rest of the tracts are bound by a restrictive covenant that has much looser development limitations than what would typically be allowed.


Under the terms of a 1980s restrictive covenant, the property can be developed with much more lax standards than are in effect today. If the PUD is approved, the restrictive covenants will be removed from the deed records, so future development would be subject to current code.


“To be honest, when I saw this, and their restrictive covenants and their ability to essentially build right up to the creek, with the very high levels of impervious cover, I was really concerned about that,” said city Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak. “We haven’t allowed that for a long time. We didn’t allow it at the time. This is a specific entitlement from the restrictive covenant.”


Lesniak explained that the restrictive covenant would allow 50 percent impervious cover on the gross area of the land, 1980s-style water quality treatments


With the PUD, developers are planning to move the development away from Williamson Creek. The proposal also reduces the total impervious cover by 4.1 acres. In return, they will have a variety of land uses on the tracts, which are now limited by the restrictive covenant. They will also be allowed slightly more impervious cover on the tract that is subject to the SOS ordinance.


Thrower described the four tracts that will comprise the PUD, if it is approved. He explained the plan, which would allow for increased impervious cover on the tract that is subject to the SOS ordinance, but limit development on the other tracts. “It puts the more intense land uses north of the creek and creates a significant reduction in the amount of traffic that could possibly cross the creek,” said Thrower.


Thrower explained the idea is to concentrate development away from the creek. “(This) leaves a big green right in the middle, at the confluence of the creeks,” said Thrower. “It pushes the development away from the creek and leaves a significant amount of the tract as open space.” He went on to note that a large portion of the proposed open space is a grove of 38 heritage trees, which will be preserved.


“It is our goal with this PUD to comply completely with the heritage tree and current tree ordinances in their entirety,” said Thrower. “Because of the entitlements in place, the majority of the property is not subject to the heritage tree ordinance, but we are protecting every heritage tree out here.”


The board voted 5-0 to recommend the PUD, with Board Members Robin Gary and Jennifer Walker absent. “One of the ideas behind having PUDs is having environmental superiority, and they’ve really worked on this,” said Maxwell.


The board voted in favor of the PUD, noting the proposal would shift impervious cover away from the critical water quality zones.


“I’d like for us to really emphasize that we are recommending approval of the environmental aspects of the PUD,” said Chair Mary Gay Maxwell, who wanted to make it clear the board was not commenting on the zoning aspects of the case. “It’s not about approving the PUD; it’s about approving or recommending the environmental treatment for the PUD.”


After sailing through the Planning Commission on consent, the case next heads to City Council.

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