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Environmental Commission recommends environmental aspects of COTA PUD

Friday, July 17, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

The Circuit of the Americas has been making its way through city boards and commissions on its quest to expand from a concert venue and racetrack into a more residential- and retail-focused development.

The 1,153-acre parcel located east of State Highway 130 and north of Farm to Market 812 are seeking City Council’s approval to rezone the property from interim rural residence (IRR) to a planned unit development (PUD). Along with this rezoning will come 967 acres of commercial space and 186 acres of mixed-use area.

The proposal has already gained the recommendation of the parks board, and on July 15, the Environmental Commission unanimously recommended the proposal with conditions.

Circuit of the Americas owners have worked with city environmental staff since 2018 to come to an agreement on the environmental superiority of the project. To earn the support of both staff and the commission, the developers agreed to limit the impervious cover on the site to 68 percent, dedicate 11 acres of parkland in addition to providing 298 acres of open space, restore 14 acres of wetlands and the creek shore on the site, install 400 trees, and provide additional water quality treatment.

“We have worked very hard over the last two years to get where we are with their support,” Michele Lynch with Metcalfe Wolff Stuart & Williams, who was representing the applicant, told the commission, referring to the developers’ negotiations with city staff. “I think that the result you see today is better for the city.”

The open space that will be located within the PUD exceeds the minimum requirement by 10 percent and the parkland is 3.5 acres above what is required by code. As a result of this increase in green space, the overall impervious cover on the site will decrease from the allowed 80 percent to 68 percent, leaving additional room to protect the site’s wetlands and critical environmental features, according to Environmental Officer Atha Phillips.

The one feature of the PUD that is not environmentally superior is the existence of an asphalt trail crossing a critical water quality zone. Lynch told the commissioners that even though there is a prohibition on coal-based sealants in Austin, the trail was preexisting on the site. Removing and replacing the trail was cost-prohibitive. “So what we are doing in lieu of that is providing for alternative water quality measures in other areas,” she said.

Part of the developers’ pledge to improve water quality includes the restoration of the creek bed that was destroyed during the installation of the Formula 1 track. Phillips told commissioners that the requirement to restore the creek was already in place and that a restoration plan was permitted, but that the repairs have not yet been completed. The completion of this restoration is required as part of the PUD rezoning.

Commissioners also focused on the trees on the site. Environmental staff inserted a condition along with their recommendation for approval that 400 native trees be planted on the property. According to Lynch, this is above and beyond the 1,100 trees developers have already planted as part of the original agreement.

However, commissioners expressed some concern over the long-term well-being of the trees, as Lynch told them that some of the newly planted trees had died. To help ensure a blossoming future for the trees, the Environmental Commission requested that the developers hire a certified arborist to develop the care plan for the 400 trees and guarantee them for three years. Lynch agreed to these terms.

With the additional assurances for creek restoration and tree care, the commission unanimously recommended the project.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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