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Grandfathering approved for 1600-unit development on Hamilton Pool Road

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 by Mark Richardson

A hearing before the Travis County Commissioners Court for initial approval of a master development plan for the 1600-unit Masonwood subdivision on Hamilton Pool Road drew stiff opposition Tuesday from nearby residents, who objected to the plan’s proposed density and called it an “urban development being forced on a rural setting.”


Critics also say the local water utility does not have enough available water or infrastructure to properly serve the development.


Commissioners unanimously approved the master plan, saying they had little choice because it met the county’s requirements under development regulations. Tuesday’s approval of the master plan established the landowner’s vested rights – also known as grandfathering – locking in the current development regulations unless significant changes are made by the developer.


However, several Commissioners vowed that during subsequent steps in the approval process, they will push developers much harder to demonstrate that the project meets all of the county’s limited development regulations.


Masonwood developers plan to build 1,600 units on 910 acres in west Travis County along Hamilton Pool Road, including single family, multi-family and commercial properties. The subdivision will be sandwiched in-between the Rocky Creek Ranch, Destiny Hill and Belvedere neighborhood. While individual lots will not have impervious cover limits, developers say they will limit the entire development to 25 percent.


A number of residents living in the area told Commissioners that they have multiple concerns over plans for Masonwood, and despite having several meetings with the developers, have not reached agreement over many of their objections. Some of the concerns expressed included increased traffic on Hamilton Pool Road, setbacks to creeks and streams in the area, and various ways that the developer determined impervious cover.


But the strongest objections raised came from local residents Peter and Betty Golde, who pointed out that the water utility that would serve Masonwood – the West Travis County Public Utility Authority – could not demonstrate that it had access to sufficient water and infrastructure to serve the development when it is completed.


There is a fundamentalquestion as to thewater serviceability – whether the WTCPUA letter is worth the paper it’s written on,” said Peter Golde. “The Travis County staff members who reviewed the master development plan application recognized this. They deemed the application administratively incomplete.”


He said county staff made multiple requests to have the water authority certify that it could deliver the level of service required by the development, and it could not.


“The owner/developer has stated that they believe the letter from the PUA addresses the requirements of Travis County Code,” he said. “However, the letter from WTCPUA states that the letter is to serve as a preliminary statement of available capacity and is not a commitment of capacity and/or storage.”


Recent media reports indicate that the water authority has been seeking to obtain additional sources of water through brokers from wells in Lee and Burleson counties east of Austin. The utility is seeking to expand its holdings by as much as 10 million gallons of water per day, though the infrastructure to carry that water could be as many as 10 years away.


Betty Golde told Commissioners that residents near the planned development still need answers to a lot of questions.


“I think a number of people on Hamilton Pool Road see a runaway train. And going forward, we wonder where are the stops to say, ‘How do we be thoughtful in this?’ How do we not just say, yes, go ahead, (when) there are things that are blatantly there that are very important, (that) are not being addressed,” she said.


Prior to voting on the approval of the master plan. County Judge Sam Biscoe reminded Commissions and others in the chamber that this was just a first step.


“The sole impact of your action today is with regard to grandfathering,” he said. “If you approve this, you’ve basically said, the applicant has provided us fair notice of the nature of this project, and therefore under state law they are grandfathered. When their preliminary plan comes in, that will be reviewed for approval based on the regulations in effect today.”

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