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Exception for RV park near Hamilton Pool put on hold

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Travis County Commissioners Court still hasn’t found the middle ground it’s looking for to grant a platting requirement exception for the Bentree RV Resort, a recreational vehicle park that would be developed less than a mile southwest of the Hamilton Pool Preserve on Stagecoach Ranch Road.

After discussion Tuesday morning, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty moved to postpone the vote, noting that there’s still work to be done by both the developer and county staffers. In the meantime, commissioners directed staffers to talk with developers to find a solution to ensure that the park’s use of groundwater will not threaten flow to nearby Hamilton Pool and to explore options for a second evacuation route connecting to Hamilton Pool Road.

County staffers have recently been making an effort to rethink the regulatory and site plan process for RV parks, which are more and more often being used as permanent residences. Terry Irion, representing the applicants, said it’s the county’s prerogative to reconsider RV park regulations, but said the Bentree application, which was filed in April, should only legally be subject to requirements that were in the books at that time.

Recalling last month’s approval of the Fitzhugh Road RV park, whose application was submitted after the Bentree application, Irion noted that the county has never before required that an RV park plat each individual parking space as a separate lot – the requirement that is currently keeping the developer from moving forward.

Irion recognized, however, that platting is not really what’s at stake in this case.

“We understand the opponents’ concerns with this project; they like the rural character of the neighborhood and they want to maintain that character,” he said.

Nearby residents have been fighting the plan since early this summer, submitting a petition to “Save Hamilton Pool” not long after the original site plan was submitted. As the petition’s name suggests, residents have warned of the possibility of pollution entering Hamilton Creek from the RV park and floating downstream into Hamilton Pool. However, with the 2011 Steiner Ranch fire in mind, opponents have focused heavily on the traffic that could be caused by dozens of RVs trying to evacuate in case of wildfire or flooding.

Hamilton Pool Road, said county resident Clay Spear, is a two-lane road without a shoulder or enough space to pass cyclists or mail trucks as they stop to deliver mail. “To me, there are only two options here: Before allowing a more dense population out there you must make provision for widening the road or you have to deny the possibility of increasing the density out there.”

Irion noted that residents shot down an attempt to widen Hamilton Pool Road and build a bridge across the Pedernales River in 2007. Now, he said, some are using the inadequate crossing at the Pedernales as a reason to deny this plan.

Legally, the RVs can be up to 400 square feet, or in County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s words, “the size of my garage apartment.” On the other hand, according to many opponents, Stagecoach Ranch Road is only 19 feet wide. “Our families will get stuck,” said county resident Angelica Reyes-Johnson, holding up a photo of two trucks passing each other at a particularly narrow segment of the road.

According to the county’s recent measurements, however, the portion of the road near the park is actually 21 feet, and only narrows to 19 feet as the road crosses into Hays County to the south.

Even so, considering the wildfire risk, Commissioner Brigid Shea urged staffers to come up with a plan for additional wildfire evacuation routes beyond the sole route from Stagecoach Ranch Road to Hamilton Pool Road.

The county’s development code typically requires a secondary access point for developments with more than 30 single-family homes, an intensity that generates an average of about 31 vehicle trips in the evening peak travel hour. According to Andre Betit with Transportation and Natural Resources, it would take about 100 RV spots to generate that same amount of traffic, based on an analysis from TNR.

But in the event of a natural disaster, Shea said, residents often try to escape with their expensive assets, making it unlikely that these RV owners would leave their RVs behind or stay with them in the case of a natural disaster risk. In previous evacuations, she said, those hauling boats or RVs have contributed to traffic issues.

Despite the applicants’ claim that 95 percent of RV occupants will use well under 40 gallons of groundwater per day, Shea also took the opportunity to urge for a groundwater impact evaluation as part of the process.

As for pollution entering the creek, the county review concluded that such pollution would only be a threat under a straight-pipe septic system, which this plan does not include.

The applicants, Irion said, have already cooperated with Transportation and Natural Resources to create a fire suppression plan, a wildfire evacuation plan, a water quality pond and a state-of-the-art septic system, and to limit the number of RV spaces.

Commissioners anticipate it will take more than a week for county staff to consult with the developer. There will be no meeting the week of Christmas and only a consent agenda on Dec. 31. Shea will be absent the following week, Jan. 7.

Photo by Fredlyfish4 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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