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ZAP reluctantly approves new subdivision for Steiner Ranch

Friday, January 17, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A small rebellion at the Zoning and Platting Commission was thwarted last week, with commissioners acquiescing to code and, in the end, approving a Steiner Ranch subdivision.


Previously, the commission had rejected the subdivision, citing health and safety concerns. Armbrust and Brown attorney Richard Suttle told the commission that, despite their concerns about traffic and the impact of future fires, the commission was obligated to approve the developers’ request as it met all of the requirements for subdivision under state law.


“I understand that you are frustrated, and I know the neighbors are frustrated, but there is just not a lot of leeway here,” said Suttle, who represents the developer, TR Vista Preserve, LLC.


“I hate to agree with Mr. Suttle, but he is correct,” said Assistant City Attorney Deborah Thomas. “Any health safety issues, any drainage issues, any road issues, are all subsumed in our code. And those are the regulations we look at to decide if the proposed subdivision meet our requirements. If it meets what is in our code, then state law does say you shall approve it.”


With that explained, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the subdivision, with Commissioner Cynthia Banks absent.


The subdivision is one of last projects left to be completed under the Steiner Ranch Agreement. Developers were asking the commission to approve 148 lots on 211.58 acres for a project called McCormick Ranch on Lake Austin.


Area residents spoke to the commission about their concerns with the project, and asked them to deny the subdivision. Many detailed their experiences during the Labor Day fires, where evacuations were complicated by traffic and a lack of egress from the area.


“We’re scared. We need your help.” said Victoria Friend. “When these rules were written, they didn’t have these many homes down here. I feel like the city is ignoring the fact that the people who are down here are not safe, and we’re trying to put 150 more homes there.”


“I bought my house 18 years ago, and we always knew that there would be trouble if they kept building up that road… There are approximately 22,000 people living above us in Steiner Ranch. It takes an hour to get to Four Points at ten in the morning,” said Friend. “What if the fire happens at four when the kids are on the buses?”


“We need another road out regardless of whether these homes are built,” said Friend.


Despite their approval of the subdivision, commissioners thanked those who spoke against the project.


“Your concerns do not fall on deaf ears,” said Commissioner Gabriel Rojas. “We are very sensitive to what is happening out there, and all your words do have impact. It matters that you’ve come here and said these things today. And it really speaks to the fact that this is a prime example of what is wrong with city code. We’re currently going through an update to hopefully resolve a lot of these issues.”


“There is not a relationship in our current code for approving new houses and making sure that either the capacity for school or roads are there, or (capacity) is planned to be there and will be there in a certain amount of time,” said Rojas. “That is something that, hopefully, the Land Development Code rewrite process will address.”


Commissioner Patricia Seeger said she was voting for the subdivision “with a heavy heart,” saying her main concerns were with wild land safety and fire danger.


“I understand how angry you may be,” said Seeger. “Unfortunately, I think you’ve heard, we don’t have discretion.”

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