Thursday, June 27, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Environmental Commission recommends SOS amendment for private development

Under the Save Our Springs Ordinance, which was passed in 1992, all land in the Barton Springs Zone is subject to increased development regulation in order to protect the water quality of the springs and the Edwards Aquifer. One of the stipulations of this increased scrutiny is that variances to development restriction are expressly prohibited.

The only way to alter the regulation is to have a supermajority on City Council vote to amend the ordinance itself for a specific site.

As a result, “SOS amendments are so rare and infrequent,” said Atha Phillips, environmental program coordinator with the city, at the June 19 meeting of the Environmental Commission.

Nevertheless, Council requested an amendment for the property at 10111 Dobbin Drive, for the minimum deviation from the ordinance as possible.

The 1-acre lot is divided in half between a critical water quality zone and a water quality transition zone. Phillips explained that the developable net site area for the South Austin property under the SOS Ordinance was 0 percent.

For sites not in the critical water quality zone, the SOS Ordinance limits impervious cover to 15 percent of net site area in the Barton Springs Zone.

The owners of the land, Derek and Kristina Even, only found out in late 2017 that they were not permitted to build their home when their building permit was flagged by the city. At that point, Derek Even told the commissioners that the couple had taken out a building loan and already paid an architect for designs. The only piece of the puzzle remaining was the approval of the SOS Ordinance amendment. Derek Even said, “The one thing we need to make this happen is the impervious cover.”

In order to build a house per the designs that the couple had already invested in, he asked for 5,332 square feet of impervious cover.

City staff, however, proposed 2,995 square feet of impervious cover. Environmental Officer Chris Herrington explained to the commission that staff members came up with this square footage limit by adhering to “what we believe the minimum departure would be (from the ordinance) is 15 percent of the water quality transition zone.”

Bobby Levinski, an attorney for the SOS Alliance, came to speak in favor of amending the ordinance to allow the couple to build on the land. “This is the first time … that we’re supporting an SOS waiver for a private development,” he said.

He pointed out that although the city is recommending less impervious cover than the applicants were requesting, the applicant’s plans also contain a swimming pool, which under city code does not count as impervious cover and will not be restricted by the impervious cover allotment.

“This hurts my heart a little bit,” Commissioner Katie Coyne told the Evens. Nevertheless, she said, “Our mission here is to deal with environmental issues.”

The commission agreed that the Evens should be allowed to build their home but that the environment in this sensitive zone requires as much protection as possible. In a unanimous vote, they recommended staff’s amendment to Council for approval. Commissioners Andrew Creel, Brian Smith and Peggy Maceo were absent.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

Save Our Springs Ordinance: A 1992 ordinance to restrict development in the Barton Creek watershed.

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