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Opponents stymie plan for controversial East Austin recycling center

Monday, July 22, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

It’s back to the drawing board for a controversial recycling center plans in far Northeast Austin after four visits to the Zoning and Platting Commission.


Though the city administratively granted a six-month extension to the grading plan, which could pave the way for a recycling center on the 160 acres, the extension was successfully thwarted by an appeal by John Joseph of Coats Rose Yale Ryman & Lee PC.


The Zoning and Platting Commission voted 4-3 in favor of the appeal, which was not enough votes in favor to extend the plan. Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Cynthia Banks, Sean Compton and Jason Meeker voted in favor of the appeal. Commissioners Patricia Seeger, Gabriel Rojas and Rahm McDaniel voted in opposition.


There was a great deal of high-powered attention focused on Republic Services of North America’s  (Previously BFI Waste Systems) plans to build a recycling center at 10001 East 290, and their request to extend a grading site plan 180 days.


“I have a list here that has some recognizable names on it, including Santa Claus, I think,” said Baker. “Over 90 people wishing to speak, primarily for the appeal.”


Attorney David Armbrust penned a letter to the commissioners explaining what, exactly, could be at stake. In his letter, Armbrust notes that in addition to the “procedural aspects,” the decision on whether or not to extend the site plan “implicitly involves the possibility of a future land use at an inappropriate location.”  


“If the City allows an industrial use to be located at ground zero of the area the City has declared as the desired future growth area for East Austin, either by design or default, it is just plain bad policy,” writes Armbrust. “No matter what the Allied Waste representatives argue; what they are really trying to do is attempt to preserve a somewhat questionable application filing as a grandfathering right under state law.”


Armbrust went on to argue, as did the appellants, that if the commission allowed the extension, that could be used as a reason for City Council to approve their proposed use, noting that entitlement grandfathering state law is “very complicated” and warned that, with a site extension, the city could find itself having “unwittingly enhanced a possible grandfathering argument.”


Winstead PC Attorney Steve Drenner, who was representing Republic Services, explained that the grading plan had nothing to do with any vertical construction, industrial, or commercial services on the land.


“It’s very simple. It’s a grading plan site plan that is routinely extended by staff, and that’s all that we have asked to do,” said Drenner.


Drenner added that they had no Chapter 43 rights, and no Chapter 245 rights “in anything other than moving dirt and taking dirt from that site.” Drenner said that they would be willing to waive any additional grandfathering rights granted by those laws.


“I don’t understand why we continue to have a discussion about something that really has nothing to do with this case. We shouldn’t have to go to the back of the line, with a new site plan application,” said Drenner.


“I’ve been hearing the rumors in this case, and there are many,” said Baker. “I’ve heard of a landfill, or a dump if you will. That does not require a building.”


Republic Services can submit a new plan with the city, Joseph indicated that he had already reached out to them, in the hopes of striking a deal that neighboring land owners might like better than what has been presented.


“We made an offer to them on May the 29th on our willingness to withdraw our appeals if they would enter a restrictive covenant that said they wouldn’t use that property for those purposes, and agree that whatever zoning they obtained would limit out those uses on this particular property,” said Joseph. “I was never given a response to that.”

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