Common Sense: It’s not so common anymore
And, that’s a shame.
Despite having site plan applications rejected now by both City of Austin (COA) and Travis County (TC) staff reviewers twice in under a year, the developers continue to put forth, for public consumption in local newspapers, the distorted notion that all is well and according to plan with their proposed project on River Hills Road (RHR).
And, despite having a clear and consistent understanding of the COA/TC rules and regulations for acceptable use of the River Hills Road tract of land, the developers continue to put forth, for public consumption, the distorted notion that construction is a foregone conclusion and that the majority of neighbors have signed off on the project a long time ago.
Let’s take time here, to review just some of the facts, to highlight how far from common sense this has all deviated:
Fact 1: Within the last 11 months, the developers have submitted and resubmitted site plan permit and project applications to both COA and TC in total 4 times. All, either rejected or not approved.
— COA: August 16, 2017, the application was rejected by the Case Manager review, Planner 1 review, Environmental review, Water Quality review, Drainage Engineering review, and Electric review; and on February 5, 2018, the application was again rejected by the same entities. Please click on this link and scroll down to the bottom of the page, underneath “Folder Attachment,” to find the fist and second sets of comments (then can be found under “Update 0 Master report” and “Update 1 Master comment report”).
—- TC: In both September 2017 and March 2018, both project applications were not approved.
—- The staff reviewers abide by rules and regulations; rules which were created to protect native topography, critical watershed areas, and limited natural resources for the many citizens of Austin and to promote structural integrity and compatibility with the land.
Fact 2: The proposed project site is located in the ETJ of the City of Austin, which requires approval by both COA and TC reviewing entities. COA site plan applications and TC permit/project applications must adhere to clear and consistent development codes.
When they fail to do so: the applicants may:
—- Revise their development plans to meet acceptable standards.
— Withdraw their application.
—- Ask to be the exception to the rules and seek out variances through governing Commissions.
This last option would allow them to circumvent official staff recommendations and best practices and to bypass standardized governmental codes/ordinances.
Fact 3: This isn’t their first rodeo. The first time that the developers targeted the RHR location for proposed construction of a sports complex was not so long ago.
Following the appearance of a sweetheart lease deal between Eanes ISD (EISD) and the developers in 2011, the developers submitted their first site plan/permit applications to COA and TC staff for review in 2013, and the applications were rejected.
Despite both proposed projects (then and now) differing in scope, the site and its inherently complex topographic and environmental issues remain the same. The site hasn’t changed. It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now. Click here for the original COA comments.
Fact 4: EISD issued an RFP for the sale of its 86+ acre tract of land on RHR in 2014. And, in 2015, the 86+ acre tract changed ownership. As part of the negotiated purchase of the tract of land on RHR, the buyer was reportedly encouraged to cooperate with the sports complex developers and their requests.
Fact 5: As a consequence of the above, at closing in 2015, the buyer:
— Transferred ownership of approximately 15.6 acres out of the River Hills tract to the developers, without cost.
— Donated $2 million dollars to EISD to complete upgrades and improvements to EISD fields and $250,000 to the developers.
— Secured signatures of support from 10 people as follows: 7 homeowners (2 spouses from each of 3 households and 1 individual homeowner), 2 individual HOA board members (one from Rob Roy and one from Seven Oaks), and the CFO for the buyer of the RHR property from EISD. Those 10 people also signed an Agreement Concerning Use of Property (“Agreement)” at closing in 2015.
— Subsequently, one of the signatories sold her property and moved away, and both HOA members left their positions.
Fact 6: 10 People Do Not a Majority Make. Particularly in a county with over 1 million residents and 400,000 households. Please click here for more information.
Fact 7: There is such a thing as a free lunch. From 2015 to present date, the developers have neither paid to purchase the RHR land nor have they paid property taxes on it. They are identified by Travis CAD as non-profit and thus receive full tax exempt status EX-XV.
Fact 8: And, potentially, the free lunch may come with dessert. In a meeting with constituents, Commissioner Daugherty of Precinct 3 indicated that he is open to allocating funds from the 2017 TC bond to this private project, after the construction of bond-identified TC sport complexes already on the docket. Should this happen, the developers would have paid nothing to acquire the land, nothing in property taxes, and potentially little to nothing in construction costs.
Fact 9: Opposition to the construction of this sports complex on RHR has not diminished with time. The multitude of substantive issues that concerned and touched many people across Austin, in 2011, continue to propel them forward in 2018.
Fact 10: River Hills Road is a two-lane, narrow, winding road with 90 degree turns, blind curves, no shoulders, and one entrance and exit directly onto Bee Caves Road (BCR) with a short suicide lane of BCR for those turning left onto it. And, for those entering the neighborhood from BCR, RHR has a dangerous stacking condition due to the sharp right turn.
Should this be constructed, the high safety risk for those traveling to, from, or on RHR will be substantially increased: especially considering the complex’s anticipated year-round (362 days) and long hours (7am-10pm) direct use and additional revenue-generating rental to adult and youth groups outside of the 12 Fields Foundation.
Fact 11: River Hills is an International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) designated Dark Sky Place. 1 of only 4 Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction in the entire United States of America.
Fact 12: The intended site of the RHR sports complex sits on a hilltop with a peak elevation of 766 feet mean sea level.
— It is encumbered by steep slopes and surrounded by valleys with Lake Austin below.
— The proposed site of the RHR sports complex is directly across from Emma Long City Park and sits 274 feet higher than the park.
Fact 13: The proposed site of the RHR sports complex is topographically situated in the perfect spot for elevated exterior field lighting (with proposed poles up to 90 feet high) to create a lighthouse effect. This functionally moots any “dark sky friendly” lighting fixtures installed to prevent light trespass and pollution.
Fact 14: The proposed site of the RHR sports complex is part of the water supply rural watershed and is situated yards away from Lake Austin and Cuernavaca Creek. The watershed replenishes the aquifer and supplies drinking water, water for agriculture, water for recreation, and habitat water to the local flora and fauna.
Fact 15: Things upstream inevitably flow downstream. Especially from a hilltop
— Things that would be required to grow the fields, maintain the fields and perpetuate their usage 362 days/yr
— Things that would be associated with any large gatherings of people attending or participating in tournaments, in games, in other related events
— Things that would be associated with septic systems used for such crowds.
— After reviewing just some of these facts, it is clear that common sense is not dictating the developers’ decision-making here. And, that’s a shame.
The expiration date for the current COA site plan application is June 21st, 2018, and we will know, by or before then, what’s the next move by the developers and will keep you posted. In the meantime, we will send you additional facts each week on why this site is just not right for the proposed usage.