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Council okays fee instead of water quality pond on Lake Hills lots

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday ended a 10-year fight about water quality in the Austin Lake Hills subdivision located near Lake Austin. In so doing, they allow – or force, depending on one’s perspective – the owners of six lots to split a roughly $115,000 fee in place of the construction of a water quality pond.


The city’s Watershed Protection Department will use at least a portion of those funds to construct the pond. In return, city development officials will lift red tags that prohibited electric connections on each of the properties, preventing owners from proceeding with home construction.


Property owner Matt King brought the issue to Council. King owns one of the lots. Subdivision developer Tom Jones owns two others, but controls a total of four lots with two more owned by his corporation.


King told Council members that, when he bought the property roughly a year and a half ago, he was unaware of the holds placed on it. If true, that would also mean that King was generally unaware of the complicated situation he had entered.


The Jones’ subdivision never won approval from the city’s Planning Commission, and was thus technically never platted. A 2001 Council ordinance allowed it to continue without a plat, but also enforced watershed protection rules.


These included a mandate to construct a water quality facility. That never happened.


In 2005, city inspectors placed red tag holds on properties not yet fully constructed. Only the six lots before Council were subject to that action.


King asked Council members to assign fees to all of the 32 lots in the subdivision.


Before the final vote, Council Members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison tried for an amendment that would assign the entire fee to Jones, the developer. The other five members of the Council opposed the idea.


For Morrison, it was an issue of fairness. She suggested that even if Jones couldn’t afford to foot the bill, she and her colleagues should assign the balance to Jones. “I’m not talking about ability to pay, I’m talking about what’s a fair allocation,” she said.


Morrison tried an amendment that would have handed all fiscal responsibility for the water quality pond to Jones’ lots. Only Tovo agreed and the amendment failed.


As part of the discussion about Morrison’s amendment, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole wondered if King would receive any benefit from a water quality pond. Assistant City Attorney Mitzi Cotton suggested that he would. “He would benefit in the sense that he would be able to go forward (with construction on his lot,” she said. “And, obviously he would go forward in a subdivision that has water quality, which he doesn’t have now.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell said it was time to move on. “I think staff has worked very hard to achieve an equitable settlement,” he said. “It may not be equitable in everybody’s eyes, but it’s a settlement that works. It’s an opportunity to remedy a potentially – I won’t say dangerous – a potentially adverse environmental situation that’s been going on for 10 years.

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