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Environmental regulations finally set to move forward

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council is considering directing city staff to revise some of the city’s environmental regulations this week, with an eye to protecting the city from the growing threat of industrial discharges, flooding and the heat island effect so common in large cities. Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said via Twitter he is looking forward to the passage of regulations that were proposed almost five years ago but fell by the wayside with the rewrite of the city’s Land Development Code.

Council Member Kathie Tovo is sponsoring the resolution, along with her colleagues, Council members Vanessa Fuentes, Ann Kitchen and Pio Renteria. Council Member Paige Ellis asked during Tuesday’s work session whether Environment Texas was supporting Tovo’s proposal. Metzger told the Austin Monitor later that he would be addressing Council in favor of the resolution on Thursday.

As the resolution states, the Drinking Water Protection Zone, on Austin’s west side “has restricted development through regulations creating positive environmental outcomes, while the Desired Development Zone, located in Central and East Austin, has more permissive regulations” resulting in the negative outcomes associated with pollution.

Metzger said the most important of the proposed regulations is the “functional green program,” which would require properties that have 80 percent or more impervious cover upon redeveloping to comply with infrastructure-based requirements, like green roofs, landscaping and controlling stormwater runoff.

He added that, while the resolution contains some items that were not in the proposed Land Development Code, his group supports the resolution in its entirety.

According to the resolution, “staff across several departments spent considerable effort developing draft ordinances for Planning Commission and Council consideration to further the city’s goals of substantially increasing infiltration of stormwater on-site,” that included, among other things, requiring all subdivisions and site plans in the urban watersheds to meet steep slope protections.

The resolution also directs staff to provide a plan by Nov. 1 “to address the equitable protection of the environment throughout the city of Austin … with emphasis on the protection of Blackland Prairie.”

The resolution directs the city manager to create procedures by Sept. 15 to do water quality sampling of creeks “located immediately downstream from semiconducter manufacturing plants, concrete batch plants, automobile manufacturers, battery manufacturing plants, fuel storage tanks, and other industrial businesses.”

Finally, the resolution directs the city manager to conduct a fiscal analysis for each code change and to address “the estimated costs of doing nothing to further protect against water pollution, localized flooding and the heat island effect; of stabilizing creeks and shorelines after scouring and erosive floods; mitigating algae and bacteria in creeks and lakes; and increasing stormwater infrastructure throughout the city.”

Council Member Leslie Pool asked to be added as a co-sponsor, as did Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter. Alter told her colleagues, “It’s really important and long overdue to address some of these issues.” She noted that there had been some conversations in the Council water oversight committee on the issues, adding that staff needed to bring forward some amendments to the Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

Mayor Steve Adler seemed reluctant to move forward with the resolution on Thursday. He suggested postponing the item to June 9, but it was not clear whether Tovo and her co-sponsors would agree to that.

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