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Cascades MUD set for 10th appearance at Planning Commission

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A proposed municipal utility district in the Onion Creek area continues to mosey its way to City Council. But first, it will pay a 10th visit to the Planning Commission’s agenda.

 

After discussion, the Planning Commission opted to mull over the potential Cascades Municipal Utility District (MUD) No. 1 just a little longer. A series of postponements pushed past last year’s annexation deadline, despite some city hopes of annexing the land on a 2013 schedule.

 

When the MUD returns at the next meeting, the commission will be looking into issues of overall cost to the city, affordability level and public transportation issues.

 

Unlike most MUDs, the Cascades MUD No. 1 is going through the boards and commissions process without a formal recommendation from staff.

 

Because of the close proximity of the Cascades MUD to Austin’s city limits, the Planning and Development Review Department would prefer to see the land annexed. Other departments, like the city’s Watershed Protection Department and Water Utility support the creation of the MUD over what could otherwise be built.

 

Developers Onion Associates, Ltd. are proposing to build 370 single-family units, more than 1,000 condominiums or townhomes, 63,555 square feet of retail space, and 62,000 square feet of (non-retail) commercial space. The MUD is located on about 223 acres along the south side of Onion Creek, east of I-35

 

Armbrust and Brown attorney Richard Suttle, who was representing the developers, was agreeable to the postponement, and said that the time could give commissioners more time to get comfortable with the project and what it had to offer.

 

“We all agreed that it would not be created unless we got the city’s consent. If we don’t get the city’s consent, it blows up and it all goes away,” said Suttle. “The bottom line is that we have to earn your consent. We have no leverage – zero leverage – to force this.”

 

So far, the project has received mixed reviews from planning commissioners.

 

At the time of discussion, Commissioner Jean Stevens was hesitant to support its creation. She said that the city would probably benefit more from annexation of the land than creation of a MUD.

 

“I used to be a MUD board president,” said Commissioner Stephen Oliver. “In principle, I’m not a fan of MUDs… But as long as we are constraining supply in the manner we do within the city limits for all types of housing, and (because of) the cost-impact that creates, I feel like it would be hypocritical to constrict supply in this manner as well. Then we are kind of grabbing it from both ends, and I don’t like us doing that kind of disservice to affordability issues in respect to supply.”

 

“This is in the cross-hairs of where we think we should be directing additional growth that we cannot fit within our city,” said Oliver. 

 

That sentiment was expressed by other commissioners, including Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez, who initially made a motion to support the MUD’s creation.

 

“Ultimately, I feel like we need to have additional housing. They’re providing some affordable housing. I’m not sure all the benefits I’d like to see for the city are there, but I think there are enough to support the creation of this,” said Hernandez

 

The project has also won the conditional support of one adjacent landowner, explained Graves Dougherty attorney Peter Cesaro, who represented the group who owns the land. Though that land was annexed by the city in 2009, they have yet to receive utility services. Cesaro said that the group was in favor of the MUD if a provision to provide easements to his client was included in the creation of the MUD. If it wasn’t, they would oppose the project.

 

Another adjacent landowner, Richard Spillman, was more steadfast in his opposition. His family has owned the land since 1923. He detailed ongoing problems with the developer, as well as expressing a belief that a MUD on the “doorstep of Austin” was not in the best interests of the city. He noted the peculiarity of suburbs like Round Rock backing away from MUDs at a time when the city was considering approving one so close to its city limits.

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