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Business owner wants city’s help to get rid of his junkyard business

Thursday, October 3, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

In an unusual turn of events, the owner of a northwest Austin junkyard brought his concerns about the environmental impact of his business to City Council last week, and urged them to help him get rid of it.


The situation came to light during a public hearing for the full-purpose annexation of the Ace Auto Salvage. This area is about six acres in northwestern Travis County, just west of the intersection of Spicewood Springs Road and Yaupon. It is currently surrounded by the city, though it is in the ETJ.


“This is obviously a very high value from an environmental perspective. If there’s a prettier place in Austin, Texas, I don’t know where it is,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “A junkyard is not a high-value environmental use, and it can continue after annexation.”


Currently, there is an auto glass business and the remains of an auto salvage business on the land, which sits on the environmentally-sensitive Bull Creek. Owner Roy Cavanaugh also has the go-ahead to build a dog kennel and storage facility on his land. But Cavanaugh joined his neighbors in speaking out against his own business.


Cavanaugh explained that he has been trying to reach a redevelopment agreement with the city for about eight years.


“Annexation is not a solution. The fact is a junkyard is an anathema to an environmentally sensitive area,” said Cavanaugh. “Annexation allows me to continue my glass business, my used car business, and my junkyard. Annexation does not prohibit my redevelopment of a self storage and dog kennel.”


Cavanaugh went on to explain that, as an unintended consequence, the annexation would “virtually cement” the old and new businesses in place. Instead of this, Cavanaugh requested that the annexation be put on hold while an agreement that would remove all of the businesses from the area is struck.


Cavanaugh is asking for transferable development rights in return for removing the existing and proposed businesses.


Though specific offers weren’t being entertained at the public hearing, Cavanaugh suggested that his 200,000 square feet of impervious cover be multiplied by a factor of five, which would give him one million square feet of impervious cover.


Additionally, Cavanaugh said that he would also like the area of the creek itself to be considered in the impervious cover calculations.


“I’m totally open to a reasonable agreement. At first, I was trying to hold on to what I had because I worked so hard to get it,” said Cavanaugh. “I realized that the original offer that staff gave me – they didn’t want any businesses there. And I can understand why. I have an idea of how we can work something out so in the long-term the city will get what they want. All the stakeholders will get what they want. And I will get something too. That’s the nature of a win-win situation.”


Charlie Roth spoke on behalf of the Yaupon Bluff Homeowners’ Association. He asked the city to work out an agreement over the property “with sufficient incentives” for Cavanaugh to remove his businesses from the area.


“I think we have a unique opportunity here that should not be wasted,” said Roth. He said the junkyard was within “spitting distance” of Bull Creek which, he reminded City Council, is a drinking water source.


Mike Wilson, who served on the Environmental Board in the 1990s, told Council that he had met with Cavanaugh in 2005 to discuss removing the businesses, but negotiations with the city came to a standstill a few years ago. He encouraged City Council to restart the stalled negotiations in order to remove the salvage yard from the banks of Bull Creek.


Neighbors asked that City Council also consider the additional impact, both environmentally and safety-wise, of building the approved dog kennel and storage facility on the site.


“I know these talks have been going on since the late 90s at least. I would like to see these talks continue, and try to build a little bit of flexibility into this,” said Leffingwell, who said that he would be continuing to ask staff about the process.


City Council will hold another public hearing about the annexation at today’s meeting.

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