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Planning Commission passes on amendments to SOS Ordinance

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Proposed amendments to the Save Our Springs Ordinance that would allow more development in South Austin than allowed under the current ordinance passed through an almost-mute Planning Commission last week.


City Council initiated the amendments for the two developments at its June 27 meeting while scheduling them to return as quickly as possible. Both developments are located near South MoPac Boulevard, where developers are asking Council to bless their projects.


The Environmental Board is scheduled to consider the cases tonight and the items are on Thursday’s City Council agenda. Six of seven Council members must vote for the amendments under the terms of the ordinance.


After several attempts to vote on the amendments, the Planning Commission opted to instead send them forward with no recommendation.


If the amendments aren’t approved, that dispute would likely continue at the state legislature. Some fear that could ultimately result in a gutting of the Save Our Springs Ordinance, which was threatened this past legislative session and during the special sessions.


“This request was brought to us in late June during the special session. The context of this request was that the legislature was exceptionally likely to go into session for a second special session,” said Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak. “I’ll leave it at that.”


Planning Commission members voted 5-0 in favor of no recommendation. Chair Dave Anderson and Commissioners Myron Smith, Danette Chimenti and Richard Hatfield were absent.


The first project, known as the Garza Ranch project, is located at 3712 Ben Garza Lane and consists of 34.62 acres across 8 tracts. The property fronts on MoPac and is behind the Brodie Lane Lowe’s Home Center. An application for Planned Unit Development zoning has already been submitted, and is still in process.


As the result of a settlement – the product of a long contentious battle – the land is subject to two different standards. Some parcels are regulated by current Save Our Springs code and are allowed 15 percent impervious cover. Other parcels are subject to the Williamson Creek Ordinance and allowed up to 65 percent cover.


The owners of the land, Garza Ranch Ltd., are requesting additional impervious cover in the Water Quality Transition Zone. They are also asking for a water quality treatment system to be placed in a critical environmental feature buffer.


Developers are asking for up to 48.2 percent gross site impervious cover and construction in the water quality transition zone.


Lesniak noted that developers have offered to provide SOS storm water treatment – which is not required under the terms of their settlement. He said the reason they were requesting the additional impervious cover was to offset the cost of providing this treatment for their property.


In return, they have offered to provide $25,000 towards the construction of a trail head and parking for the Violet Crown Trail on adjacent city property and donation of an easement for the trail.


Staff recommends approval of the Garza request, in part, because it would “put an end to a long-running dispute.”


“These properties have been subject to several lawsuits, with a number of parties over the years. This is a dispute that has gone on since the mid-1990s and approval of this request will put that dispute to rest and these properties will be able to be developed,” said Lesniak.


Staff also recommends approval of amendments for the nearby Encino Trace Development, which was addressed by the Planning Commission at the same time.


Encino Trace is located at 5707 Southwest Parkway and consists of 54 acres in the Barton Creek watershed over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, and is subject to SOS.


Encino Trace developers Koontz/ McCombs are asking for gross site impervious cover of up to 25 percent, and development within the water quality transition zone and critical water quality zone. They have offered to provide an easement for the Oak Hill Trail and build to three-star Austin Green Energy building standards.


Lesniak explained that while the waterway in question was a very minor tributary, the request meant that small waterway would “almost certainly get filled in.”


Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez said he would give deference to staff’s recommendation, but indicated that both developments raised more general concerns for him.


“I have overall concerns about development in that general area, just simply because it seems like, as a city, we’re facing times of critical drought and impending critical drought. We have to be careful about balancing the development that we definitely need… We really have to balance that with protecting the environment and figuring out where water for those developments is going to come from,” said Hernandez.

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