Thursday, August 20, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

East Austin tank farm site poised to become a PUD

Despite years of remediation efforts and development proposals for the former East Austin tank farm at 1011 and 1017 Springdale Road, the site has remained undeveloped. Then in May, the Jay Paul Company brought the city a new development proposal to transform the 30-acre site into a mixed-use planned unit development called Springdale Green.

The property owner has designed a commercial project with two office buildings, a parking structure and a 50-foot-wide easement to allow for a public hike-and-bike trail. The remainder of the property will undergo further environmental restoration aimed at keeping the amount of impervious cover below 50 percent.

Local development attorney Michael Whellan, representing the applicant, told the Environmental Commission yesterday that residential uses are prohibited on the site due to its “environmentally challenged past.”

The commission received a briefing on the development assessment, and while it did not take any action, commissioners provided staff with ample comments to guide the conversation with the PUD developer before the final site plan is filed.

Whellan said a number of code modifications are necessary, including an increase in building height from 60 to 90 feet, compatibility modifications to consolidate the building area, and modifications to the critical water quality zone. In addition, the property owner will request a zoning change for the parcel from Community Commercial (GR), Mixed-Use (MU), Rural Residence (RR), Conditional Overlay (CO) to PUD.

Although the site has not been used as a tank farm since the mid-90s, for 35 years prior, it housed a complex of petroleum and chemical tanks filled with toxic chemicals owned by major oil companies. The result is that, even though the site underwent extensive remediation, no agriculture, residential uses or groundwater drilling is allowed on the site. According to Whellan, there are still two large hydrocarbon plumes in the groundwater on the site.

These restrictions have forced the planned development into the northwestern corner of the property, leaving the remainder of the property open for restoration and potential public use on the 50-foot trail easement proposed along the eastern property line.

“This was a really disgusting site,” Chair Linda Guerrero said. “It’s amazing that they’re able to build on this even with restrictions.”

Environmental commissioners focused on the proposed 50-foot easement saying that although public trails are a welcome addition, such a large trail has the potential to be environmentally disruptive.

Environmental Program Coordinator Atha Phillips told the commission she recognized the potential for disturbance within the critical water quality zone from such a wide trail, and recommended reducing the width of the bike path from 50 to 25 feet.

Whellan noted that the 50-foot-wide path that hugs the eastern edge of the property line is not necessarily a path. He said it is an easement that the city can develop as it deems necessary. Commissioner Ryan Nill expressed his relief at the explanation, saying, “I think a 50-foot easement makes sense. A 50-foot trail definitely seems like overkill.”

In addition to a public bike trail, the project will remove remaining impervious cover remnants within the tributary and critical water quality zone as well as restore the channel that runs through the site and manage invasive plant species to reintroduce biodiversity. Overall site impervious cover will decrease from 90 percent to 50 percent.

Although the commissioners did not vote on a recommendation for the development, they did encourage the applicant to continue conversations with the community to gather additional input before filing the site plan.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

Planned Unit Development: A zoning classification designated by the city to allow greater flexibility for projects within its boundaries.

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