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City Council not yet ready to close sale of quarry

Friday, November 7, 2014 by Michael Kanin

The Austin City Council gave city staff the OK on Thursday to begin negotiations over the sale of a soon-to-be former quarry to the City of Cedar Park, but they elected not to authorize the finalization of that agreement.

That move came as Council Member Laura Morrison continued to express concern for the level of environmental protection that would extend to the site after a potential sale to Cedar Park.

“I’ve been a strong supporter of (this) in the interest of regional cooperation and appropriate growth,” she said, before pivoting to discuss her concerns. “Back when we first encountered this, one of the issues that I brought up was … what the difference between the regulations that this is under as a piece of land in Cedar Park versus what our regulations would be.”

She suggested that a delay in full authorization of the agreement would allow for more careful comparisons of the environmental protections offered by the City of Austin and those offered by Cedar Park. Morrison noted that City of Austin staff had provided those details. She was interested in seeing the same from Cedar Park.

Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell did his best to illustrate protections that his city would extend to the property. “We believe that there are … several stringent environmental (protections) already in place,” Powell told Council members. “It’s subject to U.S. Fish and Wildlife oversight of compliance with the Endangered Species Act, including the recently listed Jollyville Salamander. And then it’s got the (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality)’s Edwards Aquifer rules and the (Lower Colorado River Authority)’s … stormwater runoff pollution ordinance.”

It was not enough to satisfy. The majority of Morrison’s colleagues agreed with her, and the negotiation authorization passed 4-2. Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole both voted against the idea. Council Member Bill Spelman was absent for the day.

Leffingwell framed his vote in terms of overreach. “I don’t know of another single instance where we sold a piece of property that was in somebody else’s jurisdiction and then tried to impose our limitations on that property,” he said.

Cole agreed, though she echoed some of Morrison’s concerns.

The quarry’s current tenant had offered to purchase the land for $1 million more than the city’s $4.1 million price. That offer gave Council pause, and added more discussion — with particular attention given to the fact that sale proceeds would be returned to the Austin Water Utility. That entity had originally purchased the land in 1987.

However, the word Thursday was that the company had withdrawn the offer.

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