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Pier zoning takes one step forward

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Joe Liemandt, who is the founder of the software company Trilogy, and his friend, Andy Price, purchased a 4.46-acre property on Lake Austin that previously housed the Pier restaurant at 1703 River Hills Road. The restaurant closed in 2005, but the marina built to serve the restaurant is still in place. Access to the property is primarily from the water.

When the Austin Code Department inspected the dock and boat slips, they found the 20 or so boat slips to be in need of repair and issued an enforcement notice. After getting the notice, Liemandt and Price, working through their company Tires Made Easy, tried to get permits to do the repairs. However, they were unable to get the permits because the property is still zoned for Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1). That zoning “permits the bar/restaurant use as a primary land use and the Land Development Code allows a marina as an accessory use to a restaurant. Since the restaurant is not in operation, the marina becomes the primary use,” according to a memo from staff members.

On Thursday, City Council approved on first reading the request to rezone the property from CS-1 to Commercial Recreation (CR) zoning, which allows a commercial marina as a primary use. Council Member Kathie Tovo abstained because of environmental concerns.

The only objection raised by the approximately half-dozen speakers was about whether gasoline sales would be allowed. All of those speaking at the Council meeting expressed concern about the environmental impact of a gasoline spill into the lake close to the raw water intake of adjacent municipal utility districts.

Attorney Gregg Krumme with Armbrust & Brown told Council, “The Pier property, my understanding, was in existence when the Travis County MUD 4 intake was permitted. The department of health looked at various locations for the intake at that time and … granted them a variance to locate that intake within 400 feet of the Pier property. Of course, that was back in the 80s. Since the 80s the science has changed.”

Krumme said the water districts were concerned not just about benzene getting into the intake. “It’s the byproducts that are created when chlorine acts with benzene and other gasoline products that can create carcinogens in the water. Our main concern is good water quality and public health and safety.” Krumme suggested that opposition to the zoning change would go away if the owners of the property would agree not to sell gasoline.

The Pier restaurant began service in approximately 1958, two decades before the water intakes were built. According to a memo from staff, “the applicant is taking care not to make changes in the marina that would result in a new violation for the districts. They’ve agreed with the Municipal Utility District that they will not add slips, enlarge or relocate the marina footprint from its historic location.”

Nikelle Meade, an attorney with Husch Blackwell who represents Tires Made Easy, told the Austin Monitor Monday that her clients have no plans beyond repairing the dock and the boat slips. She said they have been talking with the MUD board for several months about gasoline sales; however, they have no intention of agreeing to forgo fueling on the site in the future.

But that does not mean the property owners can simply decide to offer a fueling service. According to staff response to questions from Council Member Alison Alter, whose district includes the property, in order to operate a new gasoline line/fuel dispenser within the Critical Water Quality Zone, the owner must get an environmental variance approved by both the Environmental Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission. “Environmental staff from the Watershed Protection Department and the Development Services Department would need to evaluate the potential impacts to water quality that a gas line would cause prior to bringing the variance to ZAP, and staff would certainly not recommend approval of the variance if we are not comfortable” that the applicant would meet all requirements for spill containment.

The memo also notes that the property owner has filed a site plan showing docks and a bulkhead, but not gas lines.

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