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When Angry, Count to Formula One

Council approves water service for residential property that could become site for F1

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., Aug. 13, 2010

Bill Spelman
Bill Spelman
Photo by Jana Birchum

Formula One raced into City Council chambers in an unexpected way last week, with a council member making the rare step of reconsidering an item after its passage, over fears the city unwittingly locked itself into a water/wastewater agreement with the racing giant.

Moments after the council's agenda passed on consent, Bill Spelman moved to reconsider the innocuous-sounding Item 4, an Austin Water service extension request to run pipes out to a plot of land owned by Wandering Creek Investments in Elroy, located in south Travis County, just south of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Spel­man made the motion in light of "surprising" and "disturbing" information he pieced together on the dais: that the plot is under discussions to house the Formula One racetrack.

Noting that no disclaimer or map was included in council backup, Spelman asked Rudy Garza, assistant city manager over Austin Water, for answers. "Clearly everyone knows this is the F1 racetrack," Garza began. "I did not know that, Rudy," said an obviously disgruntled Spelman. However, Garza noted, the agreement – wherein the developer would build $4.4 million worth of pipes and infrastructure that would be reimbursed by the city, which ostensibly recoups its costs through new water and wastewater sales – only applied to an existing 2008 agreement for single-family residential development, not a racetrack, and any change to the agreement had to be run by council. "So, what we did, minutes ago, was not approve any service to the F1 racetrack," Spelman clarified. The item then passed again, unanimously.

However, with the debate over F1 racing still raging, especially in regard to how much public subsidy the sport should receive, Spelman worries council "set a precedent to run pipes out to the same place for a different purpose," he told the Chronicle afterward, in effect "giving the F1 people an argument" for future service, conceivably under the same reimbursable terms. Moreover, the fact that the potential F1 overlap wasn't made clear to council, leaving some council members in the dark and others in the loop (including Randi Shade, who mentioned discussing the item with the mayor) riled Spel­man, who quoted the following advice from Thomas Jefferson: "'When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to 100.' And I'm still counting."

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