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Friday, February 8, 2019 by Jack Craver

City Council approves settlement with Austin Country Club

City Council endorsed a settlement Thursday aimed at ending litigation between the city and the Austin Country Club.

At issue is whether the club – which is expanding its clubhouse and adding a new dining facility, and likely plans to develop or redevelop other parts of the property in the coming years – should be subject to current development regulations or the regulations that were in place when it was first built in 1982.

The city’s position was that any of the club’s new developments must be subject to current regulations. The club sued in December 2017, claiming that its ongoing development of the property should be considered part of the original project and therefore subject to the 1982 rules.

After the lawsuit was filed, the parties agreed to negotiate a settlement, club attorney Michael Whellan told the Austin Monitor.

The city agreed to allow current development to proceed under many of the old regulations, but sought to set an expiration date for those rules. City attorneys recommended 60 years, while Whellan told Council that the club board was seeking a term of 70 years.

Council Member Ann Kitchen thought 60 years was too long to wait and proposed an amendment to reduce it to 45 years. Whellan suggested that the club would likely go along with 60 years but might be tempted to go back to court in response to Kitchen’s 45-year proposal.

Could Whellan assure Council that his client would actually accept the 60-year term? The attorney replied: “If they wouldn’t vote for the 60 years, I’d probably be done with this case.”

Just minutes later, Whellan reported that he had received confirmation via text from the president of the club board that the 60-year deal would do.

Still, Kitchen didn’t think that deal was good enough and she doubted that the club would spend the time and resources to fight over it.

“I can’t imagine why they would go to court just for 15 years,” she said.

That amendment failed by one vote, with Kitchen and Council members Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Alison Alter and Paige Ellis in support and the other six on the dais opposed.

Another Kitchen amendment, which passed unanimously, increased the percentage of heritage trees on the golf course that the club must preserve from 60 to 75 percent. The club is only obligated to preserve 25 percent of the heritage trees on its overall property.

The agreement also imposes stricter impervious cover limits than the 1982 rules, which would have allowed up to 25.5 percent impervious cover. For the first 30 years of the deal, the club is allowed 20 percent impervious cover. Each year after that, the impervious cover limit will drop by 0.1 percent.

Whellan told the Monitor that the settlement will lead to significant environmental improvements that would not have been possible under the 1982 regulations.

“The club made considerable compromises to achieve some predictability associated with their ongoing project,” he said. “It is a fair and equitable outcome with both parties compromising in order to reach a resolution.”

On Thursday evening, Whellan said, the club board voted to accept the settlement proposed by Council.

This story has been changed since publication to change the proposed length of the settlement and how negotiations for the settlement were launched. Photo by homesandloansaustintexas made available through a Creative Commons license.

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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.

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