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Monday, October 20, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Environmental Board hears Lightsey 2 project

Though it is still in the early stages, South Austin’s Lightsey 2 project made a detour to the Environmental Board last week, where developers were advised to be more creative with their plans.

Citing “ongoing concerns” with drainage, off-site flooding, fees-in-lieu for water-quality controls and issues with Heritage Trees, Chair Mary Gay Maxwell made a motion recommending that the plan’s developers explore alternatives for the project.

The board approved the recommendation on a 5-0 vote, with Board Member Robert Deegan recused and Board Member Brian Smith absent.

The project, at 1805 Lightsey Road, is being developed by PSW Real Estate. Despite being early in the development process, the plan has already attracted the attention of the neighborhood, whose members have has shown up to a number of commission meetings clad in neon T-shirts to discuss their concerns.

Board Member Mary Ann Neely embraced the recommendation, saying the project was being built in an area of the city that has “such unbelievable pressure for density, without infrastructure.” She urged developers to find a creative way to embrace the resources and beauty of the land.

Board Member James Schissler said he was fine with the recommendation, but understood that the Planning Commission had little discretion when it came to approving preliminary plans that met state statutes, as this one appeared to do.

“Most of these issues will be addressed at the final plan stage. That’s the way the process is set up to work,” said Schissler.

Maxwell said that was probably true, but they had been asked to make a recommendation to the Planning Commission regardless.

“They can still (approve it),” said Maxwell. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have concerns.”

Though preliminary subdivision plans aren’t normally heard by the Environmental Board, neighborhood concerns about drainage and the potential removal of trees caused the Planning Commission to take the unorthodox step of asking for the board’s feedback.

Barton Oaks resident and land development consultant Jim Witliff spoke to the board about his concerns about the plan. He went over the city’s Heritage Tree rules and argued that the normal procedure had not been followed.

“I just think that it’s a crime that tree has to come down. It’s a 28-inch live oak and it’s healthy, and you can design around that tree,” said Witliff, who said there were plans that could save the tree.

South Lamar Neighborhood Association vice president Bruce Evans worried that the project would create drainage issues in the neighborhood, despite assurances from the city to the contrary.

Neighbor and Board of Adjustment member Bryan King, whose property is adjacent to the project, said he was worried about runoff into his yard.

“The issue is density. We are adding density with no infrastructure in our neighborhood,” said King.

City Arborist Michael Embessi presented a tree survey of the four-acre tract. He explained there were 49 trees on the land. Developers have proposed removing 15 trees. Of those, nine are protected trees, and one is considered a Heritage Tree by the city.

Embessi explained that they had been working hard to minimize impacts to the trees on the lot, and assured board members that the plan had been thoroughly reviewed and modified to ensure compliance with the Heritage Tree Ordinance. Johnny Price of the Planning and Development Review Department went over the site’s drainage and mitigation plans. He said that, at this early phase of development, the city looked to see that there was room for water controls.

The Planning Commission will hear the case on Oct. 28.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

South Lamar: A major thoroughfare in South Austin, South Lamar is a primary route to and from downtown, as well as one of the city's main corridors.

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