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Southwest HEB location promises environmental stewardship of Hill Country

Friday, January 21, 2022 by Kali Bramble

A new HEB is on the horizon for Southwest Austin. The store will open its doors sometime this year to the stretch of Hill Country bordered by Oak Hill to the east and Dripping Springs to the west – but first, site developers must compromise with the city to accommodate the area’s environmental regulations.

After briefings by HEB’s civil engineering team and the city’s Development Services Department on Wednesday, the Environmental Commission unanimously approved four variance requests, concluding that they did not pose a threat to the site’s underlying Bear Creek Watershed.

The site at 12115 U.S. Highway 290 was previously home to the Nutty Brown Amphitheatre, which closed last November with plans to relocate to McNeil Park in Round Rock later this year. HEB purchased the land in 2015, at a time when the Belterra Village project was kicking into gear and rapidly developing the surrounding area.

While the availability of land and proximity to U.S. 290 has encouraged growth in this region of the southwest Hill Country, the area’s topography and its location in the Barton Springs and Drinking Water protection zones present obstacles for developers. In the case of HEB, the site’s developers argue these features are constraints entailing reasonable variances to land use code.

Civil engineer Joseph York, speaking on behalf of applicant Jones & Carter, appealed to city staff to approve four variance requests. Two of these requests would increase cut-and-fill constraints (from 4 feet to 12 and 21 feet, respectively) in the service of leveling the store’s parking and building foundations, while the other two would allow for the construction of parking and driveway features on slopes with gradients exceeding 15 percent.

While cut-and-fill and excessive slope codes are designed to protect water quality and drainage, HEB’s applicants argue that the Hill Country’s unique topography presents challenges that warrant an exception. 

York also voiced HEB’s commitment to improving the area’s natural drainage systems, noting that previous land steward Nutty Brown Amphitheatre had illegally expanded its impervious cover and dumped nearly 125,000 cubic yards of unpermitted fill in areas that blocked natural drainage flow to critical wetlands near the site.

As stipulations of the approved variances, HEB’s development team has agreed to remove the illegal fill and restore the building’s surrounding area to its original grade and native vegetation features, both of which should work to repair the natural drainage infrastructure and prevent erosion. 

“This is generally water coming to wetlands from upstream or off-site, which has always been a natural drainage pattern that the unpermitted fill then blocked,” York said. “Our goal here has been to restore that natural drainage pattern and give the water coming from elsewhere a place to go. Additionally, the plantings of trees, shrubs and tall grasses in that area also helps to slow down the water, to absorb and treat it.”

City staffers have also asked developers to compensate for the removal of the roughly 20 trees the project team plans to cut down to provide parking access. In addition to preserving a 20-acre grove of trees at the rear of the site, HEB will preserve 26 more trees not directly impacted by the building, and mitigate those destroyed at a one-to-one ratio via plantings or payment to the city.

With the recommendation of the Environmental Commission, HEB is one step closer to bringing essential shopping services to the Hill Country and to the 290 corridor dubbed the “growth engine” of Southwest Austin. If all goes as planned, expect to see the new location open sometime this October.

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