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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, June 11, 2021 by Jo Clifton
Council delays considering wastewater service in Bull Creek watershed
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 624, 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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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Austin Water Utility: AWU is the municipal utility that provides water service for the City of Austin.
Drinking Water Protection Zone: This is a portion of western Austin and Travis County subject to more stringent development regulations.
extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ): The unincorporated land within the five miles of the city limits that is not within the city limits or ETJ of another city. Austin is the only municipality authorized to annex land within its ETJ.
Watershed Protection Department: The city's Watershed Protection Department works to reduce the impact of floods, erosion and water pollution in the city. The department is mostly funded by the city's drainage fee.