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County commissioners approve Cebolla Creek plan

Monday, August 10, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday gave its blessing to a preliminary plan for a brand-new 188-home subdivision despite opposition testimony that at one point turned tearful.

M/I Homes is seeking to build Cebolla Creek on 71 acres in far southern Travis County near Twin Creeks and Old San Antonio roads.

The site lies within the city of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. In July, the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission approved the preliminary plans, which comply with the city’s Land Development Code.

During Tuesday’s regular voting session, the court heard from a representative of the developer along with a handful of neighbors who held different opinions on the proposal.

“We submitted our preliminary plan in August 2014,” said Royce Rippy of M/I Homes. “We’ve met with neighbors throughout the process.”

Rippy laid out several concessions his firm has agreed to, including the construction of a privacy fence to demarcate the subdivision’s southern border from an adjacent development; a gated, emergency-access-only lane connected to that same development; and the addition of a left-turn lane at Cebolla Creek’s entrance on Twin Creeks Road.

Those concessions weren’t enough for one neighbor.

“We got kind of left out of this process,” said Charles Benson, who lives in the Mystic Oaks subdivision to the east of Cebolla Creek. “We had one neighborhood representative who was supposed to attend these meetings, and he had a death in the family, and he didn’t attend all the meetings that were prior to approval or negotiations with the developer.”

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt asked Benson what issues he believes are still unresolved.

“The No. 1 issue, of course, is traffic,” Benson replied. “The traffic study, everybody says, seems to be kind of glossed over.”

He also pointed out that, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s map, part of the Cebolla Creek site sits in the 100-year floodplain, a significant concern given nearby Onion Creek’s propensity for serious flooding in the past few years.

The developer’s plans call for drainage easements across the sections in the FEMA floodplain. Project engineer John Clark also explained to the commissioners that his firm guides its construction according to the city of Austin’s map, which accounts for more existing development and therefore has a higher floodplain than FEMA’s.

However, traffic and flooding weren’t the only concerns brought forth by opposing neighbors.

Alex Van Zandt, also of the Mystic Oaks subdivision, started her comments by declaring, “Mystic Oaks is not opposed to this development or development in general. We are not opposed to change. Right now, what we are opposed to is this development as it appears currently.”

Van Zandt went on to list the various species of wildlife she has seen from her property that could potentially be threatened by a new subdivision. Choking back tears, she also mentioned the possible danger the development poses to a tree on her property.

“I have a 500-year-old live oak in my front yard whose roots extend towards Twin Creeks,” Van Zandt said. “And drilling for water – which is going to happen in order for them to access city of Austin water through (neighboring) Estancia development – drilling is going to put my tree at risk, and I’ve already verified that with an arborist.”

Van Zandt said she is seeking historical status to protect the tree.

Not every neighbor who spoke opposed M/I’s plans. Judy Canion told the commissioners that her initial concerns led her to organize surrounding subdivisions and other neighbors to meet with the developer. However, she said, not everyone showed interest.

“In an effort to reach out to those people who weren’t part of subdivisions, we had fliers posted at the Manchaca Post Office,” Canion said. “Out of 60 fliers that were taken with my contact information, no one called me.”

She also told the commissioners that the meetings her group had with M/I Homes were productive, and she praised the concessions that Rippy had earlier noted. She also mentioned one that he had left out.

“We were concerned about the heritage trees on this property, and he volunteered to have a tree survey done,” said Canion. “As a result of the tree survey, they redrew their survey plan for the lots and were able to save some trees.”

As for the missing representative from Benson’s Mystic Oaks subdivision, Canion said it was “surprising” to her that his absence left his neighbors in the dark since the subdivision, in fact, had two representatives.

Before wrapping up her comments, Canion said she and members of her group still have concerns about traffic in the area and speculated that, one day, Twin Creeks Road could become as heavily used as Brodie Lane.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty commiserated, declaring boldly, “Trust me: If I were king, traffic would not be the problem that it is. And not just on Twin Creeks, but everywhere in Austin.”

Daugherty said he is eager to continue working on the issues in the area, but that some of the work would be so big that it would require bond money.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted 4-0-1 to approve the preliminary plans, with Commissioner Brigid Shea abstaining.

After the vote, Shea issued a warning about development trends and traffic in the area.

“If and when (State Highway 45 Southwest) is built, you will absolutely be enormously impacted,” Shea predicted. “And we have been trying to get a comprehensive study of the roadway plans down there and have not yet succeeded in getting that. And I am extremely concerned about all the unintended consequences, but that will definitely happen in your area.”

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