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Volvo request for service extension stalls at the Environmental Commission

Friday, November 9, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

City water and wastewater flow just 175 feet away from the site of a newly proposed Volvo dealership; however, the 26-acre site at 10600 N FM 620 remains on well water and a septic system.

Even with a plan to alter the land use to commercial and introduce a manyfold increase in utility usage, both city staff and the Environmental Commission were unable to approve a service extension request at the Nov. 7 meeting.

“They don’t ever recommend service extension requests even unless there is a failing system,” said attorney Jeff Howard, who was speaking on behalf of the applicant. “That’s kind of a tough standard.”

While service extension requests are rarely recommended, the SER for this particular site was approved by both City Council and the Environmental Commission back in 2014 when the proposed development was even more sprawling than the current proposal.

Four years ago, the proposal for this parcel of land included 32 townhomes and commercial square footage that required “6 times more water than we’re requesting and 8 times more wastewater,” Howard explained. He argued that allowing a service extension request for either project would be less environmentally damaging than enlarging the current well and adding a septic field.

Commissioner Hank Smith pointed out that the tract of land is “very, very close to preserve land” and that the creeks the well drain into are a known salamander habitat. Environmental Officer Chris Herrington also pointed out that the Watershed Protection Department conducted a study of a variety of different wastewater solutions and concluded that one of “the highest concentrations of nitrogen we saw … (was) in developments served by central wastewater services.”

Even with the argument for environmental superiority, the commissioners weren’t convinced. “We haven’t really heard anything compelling to suggest that this site should need an SER request,” said Commissioner Marisa Perales.

She worried that allowing the extension of city utilities could encourage more development along the 620 corridor, which she noted is not defined as a growth area in the Imagine Austin plan. She explained that allowing city water to the dealership on this tract of land would likely open up a precedent for other properties along the corridor to request city utilities to expand their water and sewage facilities to support bigger developments.

Although there is no indication that installing a city-connected water and wastewater system would lead to more dense development in the area, the commissioners worried that it would at a minimum allow for more development on the parcel of land than is currently proposed.

However, attorney Howard noted that, “I think we’ll be out of impervious cover (allowances) at that point,” when the dealership is finally constructed.

Despite discussion and persuasive arguments from both sides, the commission found itself in a deadlock.

The Environmental Commission barely made the quorum and it would have required all six votes to pass a recommendation for or against the service extension request. However, since there was no consensus either way, the commission chose not to vote, thus giving the project no recommendation as it proceeds to Council for final approval.

“The utilities are in the road,” Howard lamented. “If it were 75 feet closer, we wouldn’t need an SER request.”

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