Serious Concerns Over Amending SOS Ordinance

RECEIVED Tue., Nov. 6, 2007

Dear Editor,
    Council Member Lee Leffingwell’s proposed amendment to the voter-approved Save Our Springs Ordinance would make it easier for redevelopment of existing buildings in the Barton Springs Watershed. Katherine Gregor’s article “Watershed Redo” [News, Nov. 2] mentioned some of the concerns that have been raised by the environmental community about harmful unintended consequences of this rewriting of the SOS Ordinance.
    Left unmentioned by the article is the fact that redevelopment under the proposed SOS amendment could bring hundreds of thousands of additional car trips per day to the Barton Springs Watershed through administrative approvals. That means no public hearings, no public scrutiny, and no accountability – and lots more pollution.
    Because existing zoning categories allow for doubling, tripling, quadrupling, and quintupling of density, we are very concerned that the redevelopment amendment, as written, gives developers a back door to overbuilding on the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs Watershed. It has never been city policy to densify the Barton Springs Watershed.
    At a time when redevelopment is causing huge uproars throughout town, council should not be in a rush to amend the Save Our Springs Ordinance.
    On Thursday, Nov. 8, we will see if Council Member Leffingwell and his colleagues will force through a major rewrite to the citizen-approved ordinance over the united opposition of Austin Neighborhoods Council, Austin Sierra Club, Save Barton Creek Association, and the Save Our Springs Alliance.
    As written, the ordinance means more pollution and a major loss of citizen and neighborhood oversight of redevelopment in the Barton Springs Watershed. Our springs, our neighborhoods, the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and our city deserve better.
Bill Bunch
Save Our Springs Alliance
   [Katherine Gregor responds: As the article clearly states, administrative approvals are at once a key fear of environmentalists (not without reason) and a key reassurance for developers – who must find the new rules attractive in order to voluntarily redevelop under them, with improved water-quality controls. As it also details, the concerns of the groups named have been incorporated into refinements to the ordinance language, forwarded to council by the Environmental Board and Planning Commission. Those include further limits on the scale of projects that could be administratively approved. Flies, honey, and vinegar, Mr. Bunch.]
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