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Council delays considering wastewater service in Bull Creek watershed

Friday, June 11, 2021 by Jo Clifton

City Council put off a decision on whether to grant a wastewater service extension request to CWS Capital Partners in the environmentally sensitive Bull Creek Watershed at Thursday’s meeting. The postponement came after Council Member Leslie Pool announced that there was an agreement to put off the matter until July 29, the next Council meeting.

Although Austin Water was in favor of extending centralized wastewater service to the 34-acre tract at 11213 FM 620, the Watershed Protection Department expressed disapproval. The tract contains a critical water quality zone and a water quality transition zone intended to protect the headwaters of a tributary to Bull Creek. Unsurprisingly, the Environmental Commission voted to oppose the request while the Water and Wastewater Commission voted to support it.

As noted in a memo to Council from Watershed Protection, the tract contains multiple critical environmental features, including two springs, one recharge feature and four wetlands. In addition, and most importantly, the memo notes that runoff from the site “flows directly to federally listed threatened Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat.”

Although most service extension requests are routinely granted by city staff, the Land Development Code requires Council approval for centralized wastewater service for properties within the Drinking Water Protection Zone and outside the city’s full purpose boundaries. While part of the tract is within the city limits, 25 acres is within the ETJ.

Bobby Levinski, representing the Save Our Springs Alliance, and Craig Nazor, representing the regional chapter of the Sierra Club, urged Council not to grant the SER to better protect the environment.

Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents the developer, told Council his client wants to be annexed into the city and would fully comply with city regulations. However, his client is still in the process of purchasing the property and wanted to have the wastewater service question settled before closing on the deal. The seller, he said, does not want the property annexed and apparently won’t cooperate with the buyer in getting that done.

After Council agreed to the postponement, Suttle told the Austin Monitor, “I reached an understanding with SOS, other stakeholders and Council members and we’ll go ahead and move forward and alleviate their concerns.” He said he expects his client to ask for an extension on the agreement to buy the land, but that he might buy it before the July 29 meeting, with the understanding that he would get the wastewater service after the property is annexed.

The Watershed Protection Department argued that development of the tract is possible without the service extension request, while noting that “approval of the SER would enable a larger footprint of impervious cover to be built on the site” and given the “substantial number of critical environmental features and a critical water quality zone, WPD do not recommend approval” of the request.

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