Tuesday, July 23, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Water drainage fears force postponement at ZAP

Drainage engineering studies are site-specific and don’t always capture the concerns of adjacent properties. However, without addressing those concerns, a study doesn’t always tell the whole story.

At the July 16 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission, Commissioner David King said he has heard time and again that a city engineering study has OK’d development and found no adverse effects on drainage – only to have an assortment of issues show up on a neighboring site shortly after construction is completed.

“The properties immediately adjacent start seeing more runoff. Surprise, surprise,” King said.

That concern was exactly what brought Cleveland Burke to the commission, in regards to resubdividing the 1.15-acre lot at 4701 Crestway Drive into three lots. “This is going to divert additional groundwater, surface water to our property,” Burke said.

He presented the commission with photos and documentation of a permanent water seep on the property that he said Austin Water has identified as a mix of groundwater and city water. “This (subdivision) is going to make our problems worse,” he said.

Burke’s evidence prompted the commission to pull the case from its consent agenda and discuss the subdivision plan.

Karen Brimble, who owns the property, told the commissioners that she intends to subdivide the lot into three, keeping one lot for her family to live on and selling another, while the third undeveloped lot “will effectively become a rain path.” She explained that in subdividing the lot, the new construction and configuration would reduce the impervious cover from 45 to 30 percent.

“I think it’s going to help our neighbors instead of being a problem for our neighbors,” she said.

Burke explained that reducing the impervious cover will only help if no other development is constructed on the second subdivided lot. The current subdivision plan, he explained, “doesn’t take into account that they’re going to create a new lot, sell that to a new homeowner – presumably – and someone else is going to build a new house. … That doesn’t take into account the combined effect of building another house.”

Sylvia Limon, the staff reviewer on the case, said that sealed engineering documents from the city show that any water flow from the property will not have adverse effects on the house on Crestway Drive. The property at 4701 Crestway is separated from Burke’s home on 4704 Balcones Drive by another large lot.

King told the Austin Monitor that it’s a “consistent issue” that sites with sealed drainage engineering studies saying runoff will not be increased by development end up contributing to increased water drainage in neighboring properties. “I’m not convinced that the city is doing a thorough enough review.” He said that he was in discussions with the city about the validation process for these engineering studies.

Concerns about runoff are not exclusive to Cleveland Burke.

“They’re not the only ones who complained,” said Commissioner Ann Denkler. With multiple parties opposing the project, she suggested that the homeowners enter into discussions with their neighbors.

When commissioners asked whether Brimble had met with any of her neighbors to discuss her subdivision plans, she said that she had not. In order to allow her time to do so, as well as give Burke a chance to visit the Development Services Department to see the engineering studies in the case file, commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the case until their next meeting.

Commissioners Ana Aguirre, Nadia Barrera-Ramirez, Jolene Kiolbassa and Ellen Ray were absent.

“I’m a little frustrated by this,” said King. “I’m concerned about the accuracy of our engineering analysis.”

This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that engineering plans will be found at the Development Services Department, not the Planning and Zoning Department as was originally reported. Photo by Robert Lawton [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

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City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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