Monday, April 17, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

Barton Springs redevelopment changes hit a wall at the Environmental Commission

The Watershed Protection Department proposed a number of amendments to the Watershed Protection Ordinance at the Environmental Commission’s April 5 meeting.

Andrea Bates, the environmental program coordinator at the Watershed Protection Department, said most of the amendments presented were cleanup items to “either clarify or increase the consistency of current code requirements,” with the exception of those made to the Barton Springs Zone Redevelopment. Those, she said, regarded policy changes City Council suggested in 2012 and 2013.

Other proposals for the Barton Springs Zone Redevelopment Exception suggest partial site developments, the removal of Council approval for existing civic land uses and mitigation credit for on-site restoration.

Such amendments and conversations date back to initial discussions surrounding the Barton Springs Redevelopment Zone that began in 2007, a fact that raised concern among some commission members.

Commissioner Wendy Gorgon said the scheduled discussion struck her as odd. “Suddenly its an emergency to deal with something that’s been lingering for five years.” And while Gordon didn’t have “any heartburn discussing inconsistencies and misunderstandings” about the proposals, she said making a decision under a new City Council structure could interfere with the work put in by those before her.

The commission unanimously agreed to defer the proposed amendments to the Urban Growth and Water Protection Committee for future discussion.

Despite the background of many of these amendments, though, Bates ensured they weren’t related to the CodeNEXT project and requested the amendments be considered separately.

“We’d like the opportunity to have specific conversations about these amendments,” stated Bates. “(We want to) have a focused discussion rather than the details getting lost in the much broader changes in the CodeNEXT proposal.”

Of the 44 proposed code amendments, 36 related to the Watershed Protection Ordinance cleanup and five to the Barton Springs Zone Redevelopment Exception. Two clarified environmental and drainage requirements for agricultural development and one clarified the findings of fact for land use commission variances.

Each of the aforementioned amendments was presented to the public at an open stakeholder meeting on March 21. Bates said some amendments, specifically those related to the Barton Springs Redevelopment Exception, generated concern from stakeholders. Such apprehensions centered around whether certain properties within the Barton Springs Zone jurisdiction should be subject to exception requirements.

According to Bates, there are 681 acres, or 1 percent of land, in the Barton Springs Zone jurisdiction that are non-conforming commercial and office properties. She said these lands are currently permitted to redevelop under the exception. On the other hand, 571 acres, or 0.9 percent of the total land within the jurisdiction, are not permitted to use the redevelopment exceptions; mobile homes within that same jurisdiction make up about 45 acres.

“When you add the multiple land uses together, along with civil and industrial uses, 1.8 percent of the city’s jurisdiction would be permitted to use the redevelopment exception (while) 1 percent of multifamily and mobile homes would not,” Bates explained.

To answer stakeholder concerns, the amendment would also entail multifamily residential properties be subject to the requirements of the ordinance. Bates said doing so would raise the percentage to a total of 2.8 percent of land within the jurisdiction.

“It’s a relatively small part of land in the bigger picture that is the Barton Springs Zone,” Bates said, “but it’s an opportunity to provide water quality treatment and mitigation to a much larger percentage of most polluting properties.”

This story has been corrected. It originally misattributed Wendy Gordon’s quote to Linda Guerrero. Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Barton Springs Contributing Zone: The contributing zone of Barton Springs is the drainage or "catchment" area of the Edwards Aquifer that filters water to the recharge zone. It comprises about 5,400 square miles.

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.

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