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All Rolled Up in Formula One

F1 backers receive a key vote from City Council

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 26, 2010

Austin's Formula One project has passed its first big planning vote, with council voting unanimously to reimburse the developers for laying water and wastewater pipe in the area. However, the vote was predicated less on the track project itself than on getting water into southeast Travis County.

On Nov. 19, council voted 7-0 to approve a service extension request that will reimburse the project up to $13 million to build 24- and 36-inch water mains and a 30-inch wastewater pipe to the area around the proposed track in Elroy. While public commentary for and against the proposal was lengthy, the council decision was uneventful. Even the two most vocally critical council members – Bill Spelman and Chris Riley – voted for the reimbursement. Their questions to staff were mostly about the structure of repayments and whether the city gets to keep the pipe afterward. Yes, it does, Austin Water assistant director of planning David Juarez told them, adding that reimbursement gives the city better power to engineer and fund the infrastructure than if they took a piecemeal approach as construction demanded it.

Spelman even seconded the motion to support the reimbursement when it was brought forward by Laura Morrison, who said it was not a vote on Formula One but "a vote on whether we control the water system where Formula One might be." Since the project is within both the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction and the desirable development zone and the city is legally obligated by an agreement with the state to provide water in the area, this pipe work would have had to go in eventually. Currently, Sheryl Cole told her fellow council members, "The infrastructure is not in place for the [SH] 130 corridor, and we have been struggling with how we are going to do that for almost the entire time I have been on council."

It was a key vote for the F1 project, which added another pivotal component on Nov. 22 by announcing that HKS Inc. – the firm responsible for Dallas' new Cowboys Stadium – will serve as the facility's lead architects. Now the developers plan to return to council in early December to seek approval for a cut-and-fill variance. This application, recommended by both the Environmental Board and the Zoning and Plat­ting Commission, will allow them to start the grading and landscaping necessary to start building the track. If approved by council, expect to see earth moving in Elroy before the year's end.

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