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Environmental Commission recommends wastewater service to future warehouse

Tuesday, June 7, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The Environmental Commission voted last Wednesday to recommend a wastewater service extension request for a proposed 82,000-square-foot warehouse west of Oak Hill.

Some commissioners were hesitant to approve the service extension, which will include constructing over 800 feet of force main from the existing infrastructure, because there are no plans for the warehouse yet. The applicant wanted to ensure that they can obtain wastewater service from the city before submitting development plans and marketing the project.

“My guess would be that it would be warehouse tenants, like they would lease tenant space out of the building, but I don’t know that for sure,” said Danny Miller of LJA Engineering, the company representing the applicant.

Currently, the property is used for a small office operating out of a single-family home that uses a septic tank, hence the need for wastewater access if it were to become a large project. But the site is on the Slaughter Creek Watershed, the Barton Springs Zone, the Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone and the Drinking Water Protection Zone, in addition to being subject to the Save Our Springs Ordinance. While the environmental factors make the property more regulated, it doesn’t contain any known critical environmental features or creeks.

Kaela Champlin from the Watershed Protection Department, who presented the project to the commission, said city staff members recommend the service extension request. The only other viable option that the developers could explore if the request was not granted would be a below-ground system and an on-site treatment plant which would require substantial land and tree clearing – an option staff would not recommend.

But multiple commissioners expressed concern over not knowing what the warehouse would ultimately be used for before voting on their recommendation. 

“A lot of times warehouses store rubber duckies, or stuff that’s relatively innocuous, but sometimes they store other things that are a little bit more innocuous … or more dangerous,” Commissioner Richard Brimer said. “So I’m concerned about the end use relative to any environmental situations that might come up at a later date.”

“It is hard for us to vote on something we don’t have a clear picture of exactly on what the end use of this property is and supplying such a huge force water main,” Commissioner Jennifer Bristol agreed. “It is our duty to make sure that we’re approving something that we have a good idea what it is going to be used for.”

But Katie Coyne, an environmental officer present at the meeting, jumped in to provide a reminder that service extension requests are not intended to be used as a means to regulate development projects.

“This is something I struggled with a little bit when I was on Environmental Commission …. We’re not voting on a development type right now,” Coyne said. “I know it’s been used as a proxy (to regulate development) and I certainly can understand y’all’s concerns … but in my opinion, our denials of SERs have been misused in the past in that way.”

The commission ultimately approved a motion to recommend the service extension in a 6-3 vote, and the future development will now proceed in its planning process.

This story has been changed since publication to correct the location of the service request, which is not near Sunset Valley as was originally reported.

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