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Plan for local recycled product market advances

Thursday, December 4, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Austin’s processed recyclable materials are often shipped overseas to be remanufactured into new products, but a plan by the Austin Resource Recovery Department to convert a plot of land into an eco-industrial park called the Austin (re) Manufacturing Hub could change that.

The Zoning and Platting Commission enthusiastically approved a request Tuesday to rezone 391 acres at the corner of FM 812 and FM 973 to Light Industrial use. Though the land is currently outside city limits, the city finalized its annexation in November and will fully annex it as a Rural Residence use zone on Dec. 17.

City Council is scheduled to decide whether to follow Zoning and Platting’s lead and rezone the property at its Dec. 11 meeting. If approved, the rezoning will go into effect on Dec. 22.

Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert emphasized that the eco-industrial park is consistent with the Zero Waste Strategic Plan that Council adopted in 2009. In order to achieve its goals, he said, the city needs to capture the “third leg of the recycling triangle,” which is locally remanufacturing processed materials into end-products for consumers.

“It’s important for us, in moving toward the zero-waste philosophy,” Gedert said, “to have a home base industry that can consume … the material that we collect.” He added that the city currently collects 55,000 tons of recyclables per year, though it anticipates increasing that to 75,000.

Recycling Economic Development Liaison Natalie Betts, who works with Resource Recovery and the Economic Development Department, said the city hopes to lease portions of the property to local manufacturers and attract companies from other markets, thereby creating a “closed-loop system.”

Betts said the current plan is to begin construction in mid-2015 of basic infrastructure — which includes water, wastewater and stormwater drainage — so that tenants will be able to break ground in early 2016.

Wendy Rhoades of the Planning and Development Review Department said the city also plans to consolidate and move Resource Recovery’s current office, storage and other operations on the property to make way for the eco-industrial park. The closed landfill that occupies the majority of the property, she added, will remain untouched.

Zoning and Platting Commissioner Jackie Goodman commented that the plan “sounds very forward-thinking and progressive, but very nebulous” and sought clarification on the logistics of the project. She asked whether there is sufficient interest from private firms that would be able to lease the property and finance their own development, and where those firms are located.

Betts said there are local companies that would be suitable for the eco-industrial park, but there are also markets the area does not have. She added that the city has been communicating about the zero-waste plan for about a year and a half with companies that have expressed “substantial interest” in the market.

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