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Lake Austin Task Force prepares recommendations for City Council

Friday, May 31, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

After nine months of work, the Lake Austin Task Force is on the verge of bringing its recommendations to City Council.


The task force was formed in May 2012 in response to growing public concern about the health and function of the lake. The members will meet this upcoming Monday for their final time.


In a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Board this past Tuesday, Chair Jane Rivera, who also serves on the task force, noted that while it was possible the draft recommendations could be changed at that time, she “seriously doubted” that would happen.


“We have spent lo these many months going item by item through a list of about 25 items that we came up with in our first couple of sessions and the decision of the group was that we had to have consensus for anything to pass.”


Rivera went on to explain that consensus, for the task force, was defined as, “everybody has to agree to it, or at the very least, agree that it may go forward without their disagreement.”


“There are, therefore, some very strange decisions missing,” said Rivera. “Because we simply could not reach consensus.”


For example, the group was unable to reach consensus on what should be done about the Lake Austin Residence District zoning, which technically applies to all property within 1,000 feet of the shoreline.


However, when properties in this district are rezoned, the district’s protections no longer apply.  And, as the report notes, this is true of a significant amount of property in the area. Despite this concern, the task force came to no consensus on recommendations. Their report does, however, note that the zoning issues threaten the water quality of the lake, environment and watersheds.


The group did come up with a vast array of recommendations for City Council, which are all detailed in their publicly-available 54-page report. The recommendations are broken into four main groups: water quality and environmental issues; lake use and management issues; development regulation and compliance issues; and processes, policies and coordination issues.


At the Lake Austin Task Force’s last meeting, members asked for feedback from the public to be incorporated into their final report. 


At the session, much of the activity at the public outreach meeting was clustered around the table that detailed a proposed ordinance for grandfathering docks. It was clear that Task Force Member Eric Moreland disagreed with what was, allegedly, the consensus agreement. He told those gathered that “they” wanted to see a change in that recommendation – moving the date so that all existing docks would be grandfathered. Moreland told In Fact Daily that he and a group of like-minded property owners would like to see a grandfathering cutoff date closer to 2005.


In its recommendation, the Task Force left the exact date up to city staff, who determined that records were comprehensive after 1974. Accordingly, all docks built prior to that date would be grandfathered as legal. Structures built after 1974 that were not permitted would be legal non-conforming, meaning they could remain, but not expanded or rebuilt past what code allows.


Many people who attended the meeting were clearly agitated about the issue – perhaps aided in their agitation by a mailer from Moreland warning that any docks built after 1974 might be illegal and encouraging recipients to “protect your boat dock rights.”


The Task Force addressed a number of development concerns, suggesting bulkhead standards, boat dock ID age requirements, and recommending that stand-alone boat lifts be treated like boat docks. In general, the group suggests that the boat dock code be modernized through a public process.


Rivera highlighted a recommendation that watershed protection review who should do the work now being done by the Parks and Recreation Board Navigation Committee. Currently, the committee determines variances to code, which the task force agreed was not appropriate.


In its recommendations, the board tackles the issue of controlling hydrilla and erosion. They also suggest standards and policies for water quality and monitoring.


The Task Force report also addresses enforcement of noise and sound issues, commercial activities on and adjacent to the lake and boat traffic, and makes a variety of suggestions about how to regulate marine toilets.


Broadly, they ask that a Lake Austin Master Plan be established, as well as commercial license fees and launching fees.

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