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Commissioners to hear contentious Overlook Estates case again

Monday, August 19, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Progress in Austin again reaches a standoff with neighbors in one Southwest Travis County community holding steadfast to their positions in a battle over development.


At issue is a new high-end community called Overlook Estates, owned by the Roy Butler Family interest, privatization of public roads in the area, and security gates that would separate an older, adjacent subdivision, The Ridge at Thomas Springs, from the new development. The communities are just west of the “Y” at SH 71 and US 290 in Oak Hill.


Travis County Commissioners Court could vote to abandon the public streets in question, thereby giving authority over the land to the developer. The issue has been brewing for years.


On Tuesday, the court is expected to take up the matter again, but Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty over the weekend told In Fact Daily more time may be needed for developers and neighbors to attempt to come to a friendly agreement.


“It’s not like any of the elected officials want to get in and impose anything on people they feel is unfair for them,” Daugherty said. “Unfortunately, we do have to make decisions.”


Connecting The Ridge to The Overlook Estates is a public road called Lenape Trail. Until construction on The Overlook began, Lenape Trail was reportedly just that – a trail that by some neighbors’ account was more brush, wood and bramble than a road passable by vehicle. Other neighbors argue that 4x4s and Jeeps were able to maneuver through.


“I have heard the comments that the trail was a road with ingress and egress all the way to Circle Drive,” said Joe Calovic, a 30-plus-year resident of The Ridge who supports the developer’s plans. “Even with dirt bikes and go carts, we never could go down there because of the rocky terrain and the growth. You could not take a bike and ride through there, let alone a car.”


Crews have since turned the trail into an actual road. Developers intend to privatize Lenape Trail and install a gate on the road along the border where the two subdivisions meet.


The neighbors who vehemently oppose the plans say a gate would make it difficult for them to exit the community in cases of emergencies, like wildfire. Also, they say drivers expecting to take Lenape trail through the two subdivisions will be stopped at the gate on The Ridge’s side and forced to turn around, thereby creating unwanted and consistent double traffic through the small community.  (See In Fact Daily, July 31)


But, a separate group of neighbors claims it has no opposition to Lenape Trail becoming a private road, nor do they oppose security gates.


“I do believe (the developers) have every right to have the same thing I’ve had for 30 years–privacy and security,” said Marian Keyes, who also lives in The Ridge on Thomaswood Lane which intersects with Lenape Trail. “If I was paying six or seven figures for a home, don’t you think I would feel like I had a right to that?”


Keyes says until construction on The Overlook began, Lenape Trail was not being used as an emergency exit. “Some people used to walk up in that area,” she said. “And cars have been driving down there and turning around for the 30 years I’ve been here.”


“If they want to privatize and put a gate in, that should be their option,” Calovic said. “They’re the big boys. They’re going to get what they want.”


Matt Harris, Chief Financial Officer for the Butler Family, said the previous developers did continue to handle the marketing aspect of the project after the Butlers acquired the development, but it no longer makes any decisions regarding the project. He said he is unaware of any agreements which may or may not have been made prior to his involvement. 


In a July meeting, neighbors who oppose the private streets and security gates told Commissioners Court that a former developer told them in a neighborhood meeting they would leave Lenape Trail public.


A meeting of neighbors and The Overlook’s current developers is tentatively scheduled for Thursday evening. Commissioner Daugherty recently met with neighbors who support and oppose development plans.


“Everybody is trying to play as nicely and as fairly as they can,” he said. “But, I think there’s a good enough story to present to the court that legally the developer can ask for those streets to be vacated and the gate to be put up.”


Keyes says it’s futile to try and sway some of her neighbors to her point of view.


“I said ‘You people are determined to win because you want to be David to their Goliath,’” she said. “It’s never going to happen that the two factions in this neighborhood are going to agree on anything. We have been working on this for almost two years.”


Daugherty says he believes future communication between the developer and neighbors might prove effective.


On Tuesday, the issue is expected to be postponed until the first or second Tuesday in September.

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