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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Environmental Board opposes planned changes in Senna Hills MUD
Monday, March 25, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano
Seizing an opportunity to weigh in on changes to a mid-1980s Municipal Utility District consent agreement last week, the Environmental Board signaled its disapproval of the plan and recommended against the change.
Developers are asking for a modification to the 1987 Senna Hills MUD consent agreement. The proposed change would allow more intense development on an 11.73-acre tract that was set aside for a school site. Instead of a school, they hope to build an office building on the tract.
The MUD is 323 acres on FM 2244, just north of Bee Caves Road before it meets SH 71.
Developers argue that because they ultimately built fewer residential units than was originally planned, it is appropriate to develop the tract more heavily.
Rip Miller, who is the general partner for Senna Hills Limited, told the board that the tract was the last remaining for development in the MUD. He said that the school district has had 20 years to develop the tract, and during that time has developed three other sites. He added that the reduction in density had further reduced the need for a school in the area.
Though they have no current plans for the land, officials with the Eanes Independent School District have indicated that they would like to preserve the option to use the site for a school in the future – as was the original intention.
City staff is also opposed to the amendment. Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak explained that the site has grandfathering going back to the mid-1980s, and though it would normally be in an area subject to the Save Our Springs Ordinance, the grandfathering predates SOS.
“Generally, the way that we look at these is: a deal is a deal,” said Lesniak.
This site, which is within the MUD, was intended for a very small area of development, and a specific use. Lesniak explained that because the new plan would constitute a change in use, it would not meet the general criteria for grandfathering under state law.
“In my opinion, this lot should comply with current code,” said Lesniak. “They are asking for triple the impervious cover – more than triple the impervious cover – that would be available for two acres developed under the Barton Creek Watershed Ordinance.”
Lesniak added that, in addition to the impervious cover, the water-quality treatment would not meet current code.
“In my mind, before I would look at this in the context of the entire MUD, and the net amount of impervious cover, there would need to be a significant offset to allow that. And they’re not even close,” said Lesniak. “To us, this was a non-starter.”
Richard Mackenzie, a resident of Senna Hills, spoke in opposition to the change.
“We understood that this site was to be developed as a school. That would add certain amenities to the community. There would be open space for playing fields, playgrounds, and the like. The transformation from school to office building – we see it as not a benefit to the community, and a severe detriment in many respects,” said Mackenzie.
The Environmental Board voted 5-0-1 to deny the recommendation to modify the consent agreement, with Board Member Bob Anderson abstaining, and Board Member James Schissler absent.
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