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Tuesday, February 9, 2021 by Ramon Rodriguez
Former East Austin tank farm to become PUD
After years of failed proposals and persistent remediation efforts, the Environmental Commission unanimously voted last Wednesday to advance the development of a former East Austin tank farm into a mixed-use development called Springdale Green.
Located near the intersection of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard, the area, which sits on the Boggy Creek and Tannehill Branch watersheds, was used for petrochemical storage for several decades. Even amid worsening environmental conditions, the site was set to expand in the early ’90s.
The proposed expansion sparked a neighborhood campaign to relocate the site. The campaign, one of Austin’s hardest-fought environmental battles, succeeded and the tank farms were moved. But the area still bears the scars.
“Even today, as much of the site has started to heal, it still stands as a legacy of Austin’s environmentally damaging past,” said Michael Whellan, the land development attorney representing the applicant.
As the environmental damage, and potential fallout, is still too great for residential use, Jay Paul Company put forth a new proposal last May to transform the 30-acre site into a planned unit development complete with two office buildings, structured parking and a restoration plan that includes native plants.
Additionally, Springdale Green’s open space will not be publicly available due to residential use regulations made by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that affect access to parkland.
“This is a site that is significantly constrained by environmental issues, so there is a very limited developable area. It’s in an area that is several hundred feet, between 600 and 700 feet from residential areas, and it would be an appropriate non-residential reuse of this property,” said Heather Chaffin, a planner with the city’s Housing and Planning Department.
The ambitious restoration plan includes less than 50 percent impervious cover – existing code requires 90 percent or less for PUDs in urban watersheds – no adverse drainage impact, 100 percent Green Stormwater Infrastructure, a commitment to plant 400 10-gallon trees, an invasive species management regime, and the capture of rainwater to reduce water usage by 50 percent.
Code modifications were made to allow trails to exceed 12 feet in width and to allow temporary staging within the Critical Water Quality Zone during construction. The modifications were accepted, but with conditions from the Watershed Protection Department and Environmental Commission. One such condition was the commission’s requirement that Springdale Green’s 15 street trees be sized at three caliper inches, which is the nursery standard. It was the commission’s view that the larger-sized trees, over the proposed two caliper inches, would provide increased shade to the area and better tolerate an urban environment.
When Commissioner Pam Thompson raised concerns over increased runoff, Whellan detailed conversations between Springdale Green and its neighbors, the creative mixed-use campus Springdale General.
Springdale General’s detention facilities are currently responsible for the flow of stormwater to the nearby single-family homes on Saucedo Street, sometimes to the point of causing flooding for the street’s residents. Should Springdale General not permit Springdale Green to modify the watershed boundaries and neighboring property pond to redirect the stormwater, the applicant is to make a $400,000 donation toward an infrastructure solution.
This story has been corrected. While a previous plan for the site included a hike and bike trail, the current one does not.
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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.