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Tarrytown subdivision delayed over questions about area flooding

Monday, September 14, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A planned subdivision in Tarrytown has been delayed to allow Planning Commissioners to take a closer look at neighborhood concerns about flooding and learn more about what the city has planned for the area.

City staff has determined that the resubdivision at 3600 Meredith St. meets city criteria and is recommending its approval, as is required under state law. However, neighbors raised concerns about drainage and flooding that resonated with enough commissioners to get the case postponed.

An initial vote to approve the plat failed. A later vote to postpone the case for two weeks unanimously passed, eventually. Initially, both motions failed, but it was made clear that a motion had to pass – otherwise the case would fail, despite meeting state and local statutes, which is not in accordance with Texas law.

Commissioner Jean Stevens said that she would like to see the report from the city geologist, a floodplain map and “whatever other supporting document that would set (her) mind at ease.” Commissioners also indicated that they would like to hear more about the city storm drain project at their next meeting. Stevens said she would get that information on her own, in order to satisfy her own concerns.

“I think there are issues with this property that are just coming out today,” said Stevens. “There are Critical Environmental Features (CEFs) on here. We’re talking about a cavern. The neighborhood thinks there might be more CEFs over there, and I think that it would do well to take a closer look at what is actually going on with this property before approving a subdivision,” said Stevens.

Art Olbert, who lives nearby on Raleigh Avenue, said he wanted to make sure commissioners were familiar with the issues in the neighborhood and with what the city had planned.

“The city of Austin is on a path to do a very dramatic change about storm sewers – specifically, to prevent water from getting into the Austin Caverns, which are underneath the area,” said Olbert.

That project is currently in its design phase, with construction expected to start in fall 2016. According to the city’s website, the existing storm drain system, which was built in 1952, is undersized and discharges to an underground cave, and the neighborhood has experienced flooding since 1996.

“The city’s trying to do something to fix it, and if you are going to put in more impervious cover, you are going to be doing construction work over an area that the city itself declares is at risk – I just wanted to make sure you guys knew that. … That may be a problem,” said Olbert.

Kristen Hallman, who lives on Meredith Street, told commissioners that there had been flooding in the area since the late 1990s. During the Memorial Day weekend flooding, Hallman had 8 to 12 inches of water throughout her house, and she said she hasn’t been able to live there since.

“It’s not been easy, and the thought of more dense development before the city fixes it in 2018 is a real problem. It’s like one hand of the city didn’t know what the other hand of the city is doing,” said Hallman. “We were told, ‘Well, one thing is, you shouldn’t have any denser development around here for now’ – and then boom, somebody wants to build two houses on one lot. I can’t fathom it.”

“If we have not been provided proper drainage for existing structures, I don’t think it’s time to be building additional structures,” said Hallman.

Hector Avila spoke for Daniel Camspey and Mark Waugh in favor of the subdivision. He said there was currently one “huge triplex” on the lot and that they were planning to replace that with two small houses. Development will be limited to 1,800 square feet of impervious cover on each lot, which Avila said was “the most limited subdivision I have ever agreed to.”

Jason Hunt, who also spoke in favor of the subdivision, told commissioners that the developers had taken flooding problems into consideration, and that was why they were proposing to build 30 percent impervious cover. He noted that the current structure is 45 percent impervious cover and that the new project “will actually help out the situation.”

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