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Commissioners Court approves easement vacation despite neighborhood protests

Thursday, July 23, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

In the far reaches of Precinct 3 in Northwest Austin, in a subdivision between Nameless Road and Round Mountain Road owned by Giddens Development Inc., water is served to residents through wells operated by Aqua Texas. Although the developer of the subdivision is looking to expand into another section called the Bluffs of Sandy Creek Section II, residents told the Commissioners Court that there is insufficient access to water to support themselves, let alone additional demand from future homes.

At the July 21 meeting of the Commissioners Court, the developer requested that the county vacate four public utility easements that divide tracts of land in two along common lot lines in order to combine the eight lots into four. By eliminating the divisions between the parcels, the developer will be able to build four fewer houses than if the easements remained in place for a total of 30 new homes.

Anna Bowlin with the Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department told commissioners the developer and the water utility agreed to provide a well to support the additional homes. However, she said even if the county does not vacate the easements, the developer has legally platted lots from 1986 granting the right to build on them as they are parceled today.

Auburne Gallagher, who gave public comment at the July 7 Commissioners Court meeting, told commissioners that Aqua Texas has continually told residents that it will drill additional wells to service the neighborhood but that drilling for these new wells has yet to transpire.

“Allowing these easements and these buildings puts us out of more water,” Gallagher said. She explained that the subdivision is routinely on Stage 4 water restrictions – Austin is currently only in Conservation Stage restrictions – and that Aqua Texas is trucking in water to keep the current pump running. “I’ve been out of water for five days,” she said.

“It’s just irresponsible to proceed down this path when there’s already inadequate water for the residents,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said. She explained that insufficient water for residential use is only part of the problem; there’s also not enough water to support fire flow requirements for the fire department.

Commissioners Shea and Jeff Travillion proposed approving the easement vacation contingent on the construction of a new well to provide water to the residents. “There’s no proof that they’re going to keep their promise to drill,” Shea said.

Daugherty said he has been working with this neighborhood for six years trying to bring water to the residents. “People can complain until the cows come home, but I personally have not witnessed the ability to force someone (at Aqua Texas) to do what needs to be done,” he told the Austin Monitor. “I think one of the problems they have is they just don’t have the right kind of infrastructure and the infrastructure is really expensive.”

Sharon Smith, who was representing the developer, told the Monitor that neither Giddens Development nor the county can force compliance because Aqua Texas holds the rights to provide retail water to the development, which was granted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Under these Certificates of Convenience and Necessity, a district or municipality may not provide services for an area in which another utility holds a CCN.

However, Smith said, Giddens is donating one of the lots within the subdivision to the water company in order for it to construct another well. Aqua Texas was not immediately available for comment by press time.

After consulting with county legal and staff, the commissioners determined that the easement vacation request is separate from the neighborhood’s need for additional water resources. Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the easement vacation. Commissioner Shea voted against the motion.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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