Wednesday, June 10, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Springdale Farm development proposal lacks support due to environmental concerns

For over a year, Austin developer StoryBuilt has worked with the Govalle neighborhood to design a site plan for the 4.8-acre site that operates as Springdale Farm and Eden East at 755 Springdale Road. While the overall design for a pedestrian-friendly site with a half-acre urban farm, restaurant, commercial space and residential living with affordable units has earned the seal of approval from the neighborhood, the associated request for a variance to develop in the site’s critical water quality zone did not garner the support of Watershed Protection Department staff, the Save Our Springs Alliance or the Environmental Commission.

Part of the plan for the nearly 5-acre site includes paving a turnaround for fire engines, which entails building impervious cover in the critical water quality zone. Additionally, the 4.5-foot overhangs from the buildings adjacent to this environmentally sensitive area inhibit the necessary rain and sunlight from making contact with the ground. Development is prohibited within the critical water quality zone according to city code.

Although the fire engine turnaround points are required in Austin’s fire code, Kristy Nguyen, the staff reviewer on the project, told the Environmental Commission at its June 3 meeting that there was ample room within the 3.2 acres of developable property to include these paved areas. Environmental Officer Chris Herrington noted that two-thirds of the property can be developed without additional environmental restrictions.

“It just seems to me like they have some room here to change the design here,” Commissioner Peggy Maceo said.

Nguyen told the commission that the developers are seeking to take advantage of the development entitlements by encroaching into the critical water quality zone in order to achieve the scale they designed.

“This is not just StoryBuilt trying to squeeze in as much as we can,” said Jared Corbel, representing StoryBuilt. He explained that the impervious cover in the critical water quality zone amounted to less than 5 percent of the entire protected area.

The choice to locate the fire lane turnarounds was reached in collaboration with the neighborhood as the two parties worked together over the site plan. Corbel said the current design allows for an additional seven residential units which would contribute to an increase in affordable housing on-site.

Corbel further argued that by building on 5 percent of the protected zone for development, the developer would also remove existing, nonconforming structures that have contributed to the water quality rating in the area being ranked as “fair to poor.” In a letter to the commission, StoryBuilt project engineer Casey Giles said the proposed area of encroachment is currently developed and in use. Sheds, compost piles and chicken coops on the farm are in the protected zone.

Nguyen noted that even if the construction did not intrude into the critical water quality zone, she would have requested that any nonconforming structures or piles be removed during development.

Bobby Levinski, an attorney with the Save Our Springs Alliance, told the commission, “They can build a sufficiently sized project without encroaching on the critical water quality zone.” He asked the commission to “just apply the code as written.”

With Watershed Protection emphasizing that the project does not provide greater overall environmental protection, the commission voted 8-1 to recommend a denial of the variance, with Commissioner Pam Thompson voting against the motion. Commissioner Ryan Nill was absent from the meeting.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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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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