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Junction Athletic Complex concerns don’t find a place at ZAP meeting

Friday, March 15, 2019 by Alyx Wilson

The Zoning and Platting Commission’s hands were tied when it came to many of the concerns raised by neighbors at ZAP’s March 5 meeting on the proposed Junction Athletic Complex at 8921 W. U.S. Highway 290.

The case was only set for the commission to approve or disapprove three environmental variances dealing with construction and cut-and-fill on a water quality transition zone (cut-and-fill is the process of moving earth from one area to another in order to level the ground on a building site). At least a dozen neighbors came to oppose the development, but their concerns about traffic, safety, flooding and drainage fell outside of ZAP’s purview of the case.

The first variance to construct on the WQTZ was supported by the Environmental Commission and staff. The other two requesting cut-and-fill variances exceeding four feet of depth were supported only by the Environmental Commission. Staff said those variances did not meet the findings of fact. The commission approved all three variances in a 6-3 vote with commissioners David King, Nadia Barrera-Ramirez and Chair Jolene Kiolbassa opposed.

Seven neighbors were concerned about how the complex would impact the parking volume, traffic, septic tanks, flooding, and their water.

“We’re talking about people dying,” Gil Yetter said of the stretch of road he lives on and would share with the sports complex. “There have been a lot of deaths, accidents that have made no sense.”

“Let’s face it, you guys approve everything in this city,” Yetter said. “But please do not give them any variances at all.”

Neighbor Karma McKinsey explained that the project would be a large sports complex where student athletes of all ages would be carpooling in high numbers at peak hours of traffic before and after school. McKinsey noted that cars with up to eight student athletes at a time during those traffic times made neighbors feel discontent, knowing the dangers of the area.

Other neighbors said they didn’t have the answers they needed on the septic tank or water supply issues.

“We’re all on wells,” Lynda Schoppe said. “Having fields that are treated with chemicals and fertilizers, how is that going to affect our creek, our well system?”

After all the concerns were aired, staffers reminded commissioners that most of the issues raised by the neighbors did not have enough to do with the variances set before them for approval at the hearing.

“I didn’t realize we had this many questions,” Stephen Delgado said, speaking on behalf of the applicant. He tried to reassure the neighbors that, as far as traffic concerns went, the Texas Department of Transportation was working on three different solutions for the site. He said the development would draw on West Travis County Public Utility Agency’s water, not wells, and that the project met all regulatory conditions as far as septics were concerned.

Commissioner David King said he felt uncomfortable making a voting decision with such tight restrictions on what the commission was allowed to discuss within the scope of the three environmental variances set before them.

“The thing that we need to understand is that we are not the Environmental Commission, we are the Zoning and Platting Commission,” said Commissioner Sunil Lavani. “If we are able to stick with what our purview is, it makes things a lot more streamlined.”

Commissioner Ana Aguirre said she felt that if public safety was in question, the ZAP Commission had a right to step outside of its set purview.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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