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Water, wastewater service approved despite objections

Friday, March 21, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday found themselves boxed into approving water and wastewater service for a development in the drinking water protection zone along FM 620. The extension passed on a 7-0 vote after staff impressed upon Council members the reality of their legal status with regard to the case.


Council Member Bill Spelman summed the situation. “If we did not extend service, there might be a legal issue with the taking,” he said.


The difficult position did not stop Council Members Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo from exploring alternate solutions. Tovo started her questioning by raising concerns brought forward by Austin’s Environmental Board.


“This would result in more intense development,” she began. “It is located in an environmentally sensitive area–your notes say that it is (in) the drinking water protection zone, it’s in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, it’s adjacent to the Jollyville Plateau Salamander drainage (region) that drains to creeks with (critical environmental features).”


Later Tovo added an observation that the proposed development was “more intense than staff would like to see on an environmentally sensitive tract.”


The exercise was somewhat rhetorical. After illuminating worries about development in the area, she turned to the issue at hand. “I guess the upshot is that staff have indicated that this is not the type of service extension request they would typically recommend but for what sounds like a legal issue related to this,” Tovo said.


Staff was, predictably, somewhat vague about the circumstances. Eventually, it became clear that after the preliminary plan for the project — Taylor Morrison’s development of roughly 40 acres’ worth of the Nootsie Tract — was approved by a land use commission in 2003, it opened up the ability for developers to specifically request water service from the City of Austin. Under a rule that both staff and Armbrust and Brown’s Richard Suttle — who represented project developers — agreed was a rarity, that appeared to mandate city approval of the service extension request.


Indeed, Suttle classified the case as “unusual.”


For his part, Riley tried to explore whether Council members could take any broader action to prevent a repeat of the case. “It appears that we are locked in to a particular outcome by our own city code, even though our staff feels like that is an undesirable outcome,” he said. “Obviously we have questions about whether we should take a look at that…and consider some revision that would avoid that situation in the future.”


Staff did their best to assure him that such action would not be necessary. “I think (this) is a fairly unusual situation,” Watershed Protection’s Chuck Lesniak told Riley.


As part of the process of bringing their request forward, developers agreed to lessen the degree of construction on the project. Indeed, staff told Council members that what might have been a larger multifamily development was down to a series of single family condominiums. A significant portion of the tract will also be used for preserve.

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