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Zoning and Planning Commission OKs water treatment plant variances

Monday, January 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A proposed water treatment plant for Travis County Water Control and Improvement District 17 continues to clear city hurdles, despite staff’s concerns.


This past Tuesday, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted to approve variances that will allow increased impervious cover, reduced natural area and more building height. Commissioners voted 5-1 in favor of the variances with Commissioner Gabriel Rojas voting in opposition and Cynthia Banks absent.


The project won the approval of the Environmental Board in December. At that time, the board said that the project would provide public welfare and environmental benefits that mitigate the environmental impacts.


Staff was unable to recommend the variance that will allow the project to exceed 20 percent impervious cover, because the project did not meet their requirements.


David Kneuper with River City Engineering spoke on behalf of the project. He explained that District 17, which was established in 1959, now serves about 30,000 people adjacent to Lake Travis, including Steiner Ranch. The new plant, if built, will be just northeast of Mansfield Dam off RM 620.


“This is a vital project for the district and for the community. Not only from a drinking-water standpoint, but from a fire-protection standpoint,” said Kneuper.


Kneuper said that they had done what they could to comply with code, but it was not easy given the nature of the project.


“The code doesn’t address every situation. It’s really meant for commercial and residential development. This is a major utility facility. The code’s not really written around it, so it’s difficult to fall within that box,” said Kneuper.


Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak explained staff’s opposition.


“We’re not making a judgment call. We’re looking at comparing the proposal to the city code requirements,” said Lesniak. “They don’t meet the findings. The way that I would describe this is that they are putting a size 10 foot into a size 5 shoe.”


“Our code was not intended for large infrastructure projects, and it’s very common for large infrastructure projects to require special ordinances from Council,” said Lesniak.


Lesniak explained that Water Treatment Plant 4 ran into the same problems, and the water utility went directly to City Council for approval after he explained they would not be able to get the variances they needed.


The land at 4506 North FM 620 was acquired by the Lower Colorado River Authority, which owns the surrounding property as well. Kneuper noted that it’s very difficult to find appropriate land for a water treatment plant.


He said that Water Treatment Plant 4 is just up the road, and the district had originally hoped to get service from the plant, but was told that wasn’t available, forcing the district to build the plant.


“It’s an absolutely critical project for the district‘s residents,” said Kneuper. “Infrastructure is a major issue. Fire protection is a major issue. And this is one of the solutions to those issues. We need to provide a reliable, potable municipal water supply to the area and this is the only way it’s going to happen.”

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