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Planning Commission backs amendments, new Lake Austin Overlay

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Upcoming changes for Lake Austin may have gotten a unanimous nod from the Planning Commission, but beneath the placid surface of that recommendation was a lot of consternation.


The Planning Commission had discussed the proposed Lake Austin Overlay amendments previously (See Austin Monitor, April 3), but given the magnitude of the changes, decided to consider them over the course of two meetings. This time, they singled out the changes that were most controversial, and held individual votes on those changes.


Most of the amendments passed unanimously, in a vote of 8-0, with Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez absent.


Instead of staff recommendation, the commission voted to recommend the task force recommendation that registered, legal, non-complying docks be allowed to keep their footprint in perpetuity. That was approved in a vote of 6-2, with Commissioners James Nortey and Richard Hatfield voting in opposition.


Commissioner Brian Roark, who also served on the Lake Austin Task Force, was the lone vote in opposition to a clarification that docks be limited to two slips, which would accommodate two boats or four jets skis or the equivalent.


Roark also cast the sole vote against an amendment that explicitly banned tram construction on the lake without a variance.


“I don’t personally have a strong opinion one way or another, but a lot of people do,” said Roark. “There’s a lot of people that think trams are the worst thing in the world, and a lot of people that think they ought to be able to do what they want to do with their land. It was discussed ad nauseum at the Lake Austin Task Force and we weren’t able to get a consensus on it. I tend to personally think that absent an extraordinarily compelling reason not to allow them – which I haven’t heard – you should allow folks to do what they want to do with their property.”


Commissioners addressed concerns about lake bottom ownership. Former Lake Austin Task Force Member Eric Moreland warned that it was unclear.


Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak agreed that the topic was “murky” and explained that the amendment didn’t dispute the rights of people to build a dock over the lake bottom, but also didn’t waive their rights to ownership.


“Basically, it says we’re not going to have a discussion about the ownership of the lake bottom when you come in to build a dock,” said Lesniak.


That amendment passed 6-0-1 with Roark abstaining.


The Planning Commission also voted to recommend a new Lake Austin Overlay, in a vote of 7-1, with Roark voting in opposition.


The overlay is designed to retain the environmental protections of Lake Austin zoning even if those properties currently zoned LA (Lake Austin) are upzoned.


The Planning Commission voted to implement the recommendations of the Environmental Board, which set the overlay 1,000 feet and would apply to properties currently zoned LA, Development Reserve (DR), Rural Residential (RR), and Interim-RR. Staff estimates that the overlay will apply to about 2,200 of the 6,000 parcels that are within 1,000 feet of the lake.


“Generally speaking, I think we’re addressing a problem that isn’t really a problem,” said Roark. “Lake Austin, right now, is one of – if not the – healthiest and most pristine lakes in Texas… It’s already working perfectly. Why create extra regulation, extra restriction, et cetera?”


Nortey said that while he thought Roark was right about the quality of the lake, the overlay was “just one more guarantee to the community” that they could continue to expect a certain quality of development.

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