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Reporter’s Notebook: Water stalled?

Monday, April 8, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Next steps forward… Last fall, Council urged Austin Water to accelerate the implementation of alternative water ordinances that would change how developers incorporate water conservation into their construction. Yet at the most recent meeting of the Austin Integrated Water Resource Planning Community Task Force on March 12, Bill Moriarty, chair of the Water and Wastewater Commission, told the Austin Monitor that “they didn’t seem to offer any program to do it faster.” Videos of the meeting show the same schedule that was presented to Council at its Nov. 27, 2018, work session. At the meeting, Austin Water staff said that they were unable to craft the ordinances any more quickly than was originally planned. The current schedule shows that any new water conservation or use rules would take effect beginning in 2022. Seeing no movement by Austin Water to speed up implementation, task force members sent a letter to the city manager’s office on April 1, urging them to help “identify ways of accelerating the implementation of the plan, particularly the codes and ordinances related to water conservation and onsite water resources.” As the Water Forward Plan contains many initiatives that require more planning before implementation can occur, changing the ordinances is comparatively a quicker solution that, according to Moriarty, “is really cheap medicine.” While the water utility continues to develop the ordinances, development in Austin continues to boom. “There are condos and buildings flying up every day and they’re being done with antiquated ordinance guidance,” explained Moriarty. In order to try to jump-start the process and train developers’ eyes toward conservation, the task force has asked not only the city manager but Council members for help. “We would be the most ineffective task force in history if we just let this roll off,” said Moriarty. Council Member Kathie Tovo told the Austin Monitor that she was not sure why Austin Water was unable to expedite the timeline. She pointed to the work session meeting on Nov. 27 as evidence that water utility staff were amenable to hastening the original schedule. In the meeting, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros explained that the ordinances are “something that we want to get into code and get into the development review process pretty quickly.” Austin Water could not be reached for comment.

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Imminent eminent?… Even after more than an hour of “what if?” scenarios and analysis during last week’s special City Council meeting about the future of the Austin Convention Center, there were some wide eyes at the end of the session when Council Member Alison Alter casually threw out the possibility of using eminent domain to acquire the two and a half blocks needed for the facility to expand to the west. Specifically Alter was discussing the benefit of increased public access to the convention center space and the possibility of constructing up to 1 million square feet of office space – for city use or private lease – on some portion of the project. The hypothetical taking of private property for a convention center expansion caught the attention of other Council members, with some noting the irony of Mayor Steve Adler’s career defending property owners’ rights in eminent domain cases. That discussion came just days before the Texas Senate passed a bill that would in some ways strengthen the rights of landowners caught up in eminent domain cases.

Heard that… At a recent meeting of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association – an area in North Austin adjacent to the future site of a 20,000-seat soccer stadium – Foundation Communities executive director Walter Moreau said a payment of $500,000 from Precourt Sports Ventures, the group behind the stadium project, was on its way later this month. Moreau said the upcoming payment is scheduled for April 24 at the groundbreaking of the Waterloo Terrace project. The payment is the first headed to the nonprofit as part of PSV’s land deal with the city, with $4 million total committed to provide affordable housing and other services to low-income residents in Austin. At the meeting Moreau also shared that the affordable housing slated for the stadium’s 24-acre parcel would be built in about four years – two years after the stadium’s expected 2021 completion – and that the units will be need to be small efficiency units because the construction footprint there will be so tight. [Editor’s Note: This story has been changed since publication to update facts on the affordable housing project and to correct statements that Foundation Communities had been waiting for funding since December and that its project was at risk of being held up because of that delay.]

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns and Chad Swiatecki.

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