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Multifamily project with ‘sensitive environmental features’ earns water service extension

Tuesday, November 9, 2021 by Willow Higgins

At last Wednesday’s meeting of the Environmental Commission, the Watershed Protection Department requested a water service extension for a 280-unit, multifamily project on a parcel nearly 70 acres in size, at 8921 U.S. Highway 290 West. The property was originally intended to become a sports complex, but after a change of plans, the proposed development is now residential.

The development has a few things to watch out for, as it houses a number of sensitive environmental features and sits in the Slaughter Creek Watershed, the Barton Springs Zone, the Drinking Water Protection Zone and the Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone. As a neighboring development project needs similar wastewater infrastructure, and was already approved for a service extension request, community members, developers and the commission discussed how to best position the two projects and the possibility of sharing wastewater infrastructure to minimize deforestation and other costs.

Kaela Champlin, an environmental program coordinator with Watershed, explained that a service extension request is made when a project sits more than 100 feet away from a water or wastewater system and the developer needs the city to expand or improve existing infrastructure in order to service the new development. While any associated fees are at the developer’s expense, service extension requests on some parcels require approval from City Council.

In this case, both of the upcoming developments need a lift station, an installation that directs wastewater to a higher point so gravity can help it flow toward a treatment plant, and a force main, a pressurized sewage pipe system. If this service extension request was not approved by the commission, the developers would likely apply for a subsurface, on-site sewage treatment facility, which would disturb over eight acres of land – an option Watershed Protection would like to avoid.

“While sensitive environmental features do exist within the parcel, and there is a concern that leaking pipes could cause environmental harm to the creek,” Champlin said, Watershed staffers recommend approving the request, “because the approved (service extension request at the adjacent development) will eventually allow for the construction of new public wastewater infrastructure and the proposed infrastructure for this project is similar to that which (was) previously approved for the other site.”

While there are no guarantees that the adjacent development, which has yet to produce site plans, will be willing and able to share a lift station with the 8921 U.S. 290 West property, the odds look good.

“I’m hopeful,” said Michael Whellan, an attorney who spoke at the meeting on behalf of the applicant. “I think more hope exists than doesn’t in this particular circumstance, because it just makes economic sense to do it that way.”

Community members living near the new residential project requested the developers move the service extension as far away from the creek as possible to prevent pollution and property value degradation. The development team was able to move the proposed service extension on their site plan to the preferred location of the neighbors, who showed up at the meeting in support of the latest variation on the plan.

The commission approved the service request, with the hopes that its neighboring development can share the soon-to-be-constructed wastewater infrastructure with the residential development.

The Environmental Commission is scheduled to meet next on Nov. 17.

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