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Friday, April 21, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Council OKs Bowie impervious cover swap

City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution allowing the Austin Independent School District to transfer development rights from two or more properties the district is in the process of purchasing to allow for greater development at Bowie High School.

The high school and the properties AISD is purchasing are within the sensitive Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer, so development is governed by the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Although additions and redevelopment on the Bowie tract will mean more impervious cover, by purchasing other land to be protected, the district can enlarge and improve the school.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair, whose district includes Bowie, sponsored the resolution, which also starts the process of amending an agreement between AISD and the city related to land-use regulations at Bowie.

Council Member Delia Garza offered friendly amendments to make sure that the changes would be reviewed by both land-use commissions and the Environmental Commission.

The resolution directs the city manager to facilitate an expedited process, with the goal of bringing the amended agreement back to Council before June 22.

Troxclair told her colleagues that Bowie is the most overcrowded high school in the city and needs room to grow. According to AISD figures, Bowie is at 118 percent of capacity. The school has 2,906 students, 443 more than it was designed to accommodate.

The second most crowded high school is Akins, which is at 113 percent of capacity, with 2,703 students, or 309 more than it was planned to have. However, Akins is in Southeast Austin and does not face the problem of trying to protect the aquifer while accommodating its student population.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo asked how the resolution fit in with the AISD board’s recent resolution to purchase land next to Bowie.

AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson explained that the sites the district is working to purchase are not close enough to the school to be used for expansion. However, because they are within the Barton Springs Zone, the district can trade the development rights on those properties for more development on the Bowie site.

Johnson said the plan is to improve the school, add classrooms, increase the size of the cafeteria and reduce pollutant loads at the same time. The resolution does call for enhanced water quality protections “and other environmental mitigation solutions … where deviations from city code requirements are authorized.”

She said AISD expects to purchase approximately six acres of land in order to provide enough impervious cover credits for Bowie’s expansion.

Tovo also wanted to know whether it would be possible to use portable buildings, which are not considered when measuring impervious cover, instead of building more permanent buildings.

Bowie is currently using portables, but when the Austin Monitor asked Johnson about them after the meeting, she said that they are expensive and difficult to maintain.

Yasmin Wagner, AISD trustee for District 7, told the Monitor later, “AISD will be the owners” of the property, “but there will be land-use agreements … so future trustees can’t change their mind. That land is going to be forever protected.”

Wagner told the Monitor that AISD could take the money approved by voters in the 2008 bond election to buy the mitigation land and to buy another tract, possibly in Southeast Austin, as well as improve Bowie.

Asked whether there would be future development over the aquifer, Wagner said, “When we look at development coming in the future … there will be pockets of development, but it won’t be large, explosive growth.” She said what the district really needs at Bowie is another 300 seats. The district does not have enough money to build a new high school right now, she said, but it does have enough to make improvements.

She noted that there are several elementary schools located over the aquifer that need enlargement but don’t currently have enough impervious cover rights for expansion. Those schools include Barton Hills, Zilker, Kiker and Baranoff.

AISD will probably ask the city to consider changing its policy as relates to several of those schools, according to Johnson.

The changes to the transfer policy that will take effect this coming fall will reduce the number of students at Bowie, Wagner said, but the school still needs to expand, and the common spaces need major improvements.

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