Slusher vs. Bunch
The following is a capsule version of opposing views on the proposed Stratus development agreement, as presented by two former environmental allies: Council Member Daryl Slusher (for) and Save Our Springs Alliance director Bill Bunch (against). Their comments are drawn and summarized from their respective analyses of the proposal, edited for clarity and brevity. (Complete versions of each argument are available at www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/slusher.htm and www.sosalliance.org.)
Slusher: Stratus agrees to build at SOS impervious cover levels with strict water quality controls. In fact, the development levels in the proposal are less than could be built under SOS.
On SOS Compliance
Bunch: We continue to disagree. Under the current rural residential zoning, SOS would allow far less development than the proposed deal. SOS impervious cover levels must be applied on a site-by-site basis -- this is a much better approach than allowing much higher impervious cover levels on some sites.
Slusher: Stratus would be allowed to "cluster" its development, leaving some tracts completely undeveloped. The SOS ordinance does not allow clustering. This is what opponents ... are referring to when they say the agreement does not comply with SOS. City biologists and some environmentalists believe clustering provides better water quality protection than SOS.
The Cluster Effect
Bunch: The claim that SOS does not allow for "clustering" is incorrect. The ordinance only requires clustering below 15 to 25% impervious cover levels on every site.
Slusher: The development would include green-building measures, a prohibition on big-box retail, native plant landscaping, and dramatically reduced traffic beyond what was previously planned.
Bunch: Regarding the latter, both the proposal and city staff's traffic analysis of the deal is severely flawed. The city's Urban Transportation Commission has rejected these estimates. The staff analysis underestimates traffic to a significant degree, by ignoring trends of increasing vehicle miles traveled.
Slusher: The city's acquisition of the Stratus property is not feasible. Cost estimates of the property range from $50 million to $100 million. Austin, like other cities in the state and nation, is in a severe financial crunch.
Bunch: We have not advocated a specific purchase at this time; however, our general position is that it is cheaper to buy up development lands than it is to continue building road expansions, schools, etc. to serve the development. We believe that Stratus' view of the value of its land is grossly overinflated.
Slusher: The best opportunity for that has already been lost. In late 2000, I proposed consideration of swapping land at the former Mueller Airport for Stratus property. That proposal met with fierce resistance from SOS and the Austin Neighborhoods Council. I was unable to win majority council support for even discussing the idea.
Bunch: We support transferring development out of the Barton Springs watershed and very much appreciate that the City Council is interested in this approach. We oppose giving Stratus a monopoly position to explore such swapping or transfers. We support a competitive bidding process, so that all developers in the Barton Springs watershed are encouraged to offer trade lands. In this way the city can assure the best deal for taxpayers and for the aquifer.