Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Environmental Commission postpones Lantana PCA to encourage compromise

On Feb. 19, the Environmental Commission heard from divided parties arguing their case for whether to recommend implementing a Project Consent Agreement at the Lantana project in Southwest Austin to allow for a mixed-use residential project rather than office space on the site.

“They are proposing a change of use within the same footprint,” Environmental Officer Chris Herrington explained. “We have a disagreement over what the old code restrictions are that actually apply.”

The development rights of the 9.4-acre site at 7415 Southwest Parkway were disputed in the first years of the new millennium. In an effort to solve the dispute, Stratus, which currently owns the property, and the city of Austin drafted a Letter Agreement document in 2001 outlining the property’s vested rights under regulations that date back to the 1980s. The original site plan for the Lantana development dates to 1984. Although revised from the original plan, the agreement from the early 2000s, which was never officially recognized by City Council, allows developers to develop the site without adhering to Save Our Springs Ordinance regulations.

In spite of a general agreement between the parties that the land had vested rights and will not be developed under modern code regulations, Save Our Springs Alliance attorney Bobby Levinski said it is unclear how much of the increased impervious cover entitlements the developer has already used.

He told commissioners that while the Letter Agreement establishes aggregate development entitlements for impervious cover, these entitlements were not actively tracked or reviewed by either the city or the landowner. Stratus has already developed portions of the property.

“We don’t have a good sense of how much impervious cover has been used,” said Levinski. “In our perspective, they’ve exceeded it on any measure of the cap.”

Under the SOS Ordinance, the allowable impervious cover for a site is 25 percent of the net site area. The project is permitted 60 percent impervious cover under its vested rights, according to Environmental Program Coordinator Atha Phillips.

Attorney Michael Whellan told the commission that the issue boils down to the fact that “we have a fundamental solid disagreement about what amount of impervious cover is allowed.”

To find a compromise between the impervious cover limitations allowed under today’s SOS Ordinance and the limitations outlined in the Letter Agreement, city staff recommended capping the impervious cover at 17.5 acres or 49 percent of the current site plan. Additionally, staffers recommended that the applicant set aside 3.1 acres of land as an undisturbed natural area to meet the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance and contribute to the reduction in the overall impervious cover on the site.

Whellan told the commission that because the project is currently planned to use less than the allowable impervious cover, Stratus was amenable to donating the additional 3 acres of land and limiting the aggregate impervious cover on the site to 49 percent.

Andy Linseisen, the assistant director of Development Services, told the Austin Monitor that while this addition of land will reduce the site’s overall impervious cover, city staff still plans to perform an impervious cover analysis. He also said that while the Letter Agreement was never recognized by Council, “We have to honor it.”

While the Environmental Commission discussed the case, Whellan and Levinski spoke privately off the dais. When commissioners commented on the ongoing conversation between the two parties, Levinski offered a potential solution to the dispute. “We could just go and try and figure something out,” he said.

Along with encouraging the two parties to reach a compromise, commissioners wanted more information about potential avenues for compromise that will bring the development into closer compliance with today’s SOS Ordinance. With more questions than answers, the commission voted unanimously to postpone the case to its next meeting.

In the meantime, Chair Linda Guerrero encouraged the two parties to continue their discussion. “Just go and work this thing out with SOS,” she said to Whellan.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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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.

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