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Tuesday, July 10, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Council OKs Koenig flood plain variance

Despite a recommendation from the city’s flood plain engineers that they deny the variances, City Council members voted 6-4 at their last meeting to grant variances allowing construction of an apartment complex, partially within the 25-year flood plain and partially within the 100-year flood plain.

Developers propose to build a four-story multifamily building with 383 residential units at 1301 W. Koenig Lane, in Council District 7, previously the site of the First Texas Honda dealership.

Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district includes the property, made the motion for approval. Voting with her were Council members Ann Kitchen, Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar, Pio Renteria and Delia Garza. Mayor Steve Adler, along with Council members Ora Houston and Alison Alter and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, voted against the variances. It was after midnight and Council Member Ellen Troxclair was no longer on the dais. The variances were approved on first reading only, so they will have to come back for final approval in August.

Kevin Shunk, the Engineering Division manager for the Watershed Protection Department, told Council that the building would be elevated two feet above the 100-year flood plain and almost two feet above the 500-year flood plain. He said the developer’s engineers had demonstrated that the building would not cause increased flooding on surrounding properties and that, in fact, developers were offering more floodwater detention than the regulation requires.

However, Shunk said, “the property does not have safe access. … The safe access rule states that you have to walk from the building to the right of way, all at an elevation one foot above the flood plain. That’s for safety – for first responders to get to the building and for the occupants of the building to get out of the building at time of flood.”

According to Watershed Protection Department engineers, all the points of access are located within the 100-year flood plain. “The depth of water during a 100-year flood event along these access paths ranges from 0.5 feet to 1.5 feet with velocities ranging from 3 feet/second to 6 feet/second,” according to the department’s backup material.

Shunk told Council even though the depth of water might be only as great as a kiddie pool, even a little water can be dangerous, especially in the dark.

Attorney David Hartman represented the applicant, Ledcor Properties. Hartman said, “This is probably the most constrained site I’ve ever worked with in my professional career.” Because the building will be bounded by the flood plain on all four sides, the developer is working on a flood safety plan for the development. The plan includes safety information and flood risk notification to the residents, informative signs about flooding on the property and a building management emergency response plan, according to Hartman.

Basically, residents will be advised to shelter in place, Hartman said. However, he added, “In the unlikely event somebody is going to need to evacuate, there’s going to be multiple points of access to and from the right of way, including via an elevated pedestrian bridge.” He described the flood safety plan as “the gold standard.”

Tovo asked Hartman whether there was any possibility of getting safe access out of the property through a neighboring property if given more time.

Hartman told her that his client had been working on that problem for more than a year and had not gotten anywhere. “Believe me, if we could have that access easement, this variance would be granted administratively, and we’d far prefer to proceed administratively with staff rather than have to be before Council. So this is our last, last effort.”

Hartman also said that the developer would be creating a “nice urban park” and a vegetated trail through the property.

Photo from Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Floodplain variance: A deviation from normal floodplain construction restrictions granted by any number of municipal entities.

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