Has BFI recycled itself into another corner? It certainly looks that way. Neighborhood opposition -- same opposition, different neighborhood -- is growing by the day over the prospect of the recycling plant moving from its old battleground in Central East Austin to a new one in Southeast Austin.
BFI plans to build a new facility in an industrial park at 4711 Winnebago Lane near Burleson Road, north of the Kensington Park neighborhood of about 14 homes. But getting there may prove as painful as the plant's departure from its current Bolm Road site, where the city initiated condemnation proceedings and paid BFI $3.9 million to take its operations out of the Gardens neighborhood, whose residents had endured years of truck traffic and blowing trash. But it wasn't until a five-alarm fire broke out at the plant in 1996 that the city finally pitched in to help.
Which seems only fair, considering that it was, after all, the city's huge volume of recycling that was contributing to the Bolm Road mess. After the fire, the City Council passed a resolution promising to relocate BFI "to a site that is out of proximity to neighborhoods." Kensington Park neighbors are counting on that resolution, along with other evidence, to buttress their argument against BFI moving to a 9.5-acre site that pushes up against their property.
"We don't want to be confrontational," says resident Jack Howison. "We want to turn this into a winning situation for everybody." By "winning situation," Howison means that BFI should find someplace else to relocate, away from any neighborhood. While Winnebago Lane and its adjoining streets are zoned Light Industrial, Howison says BFI presents more of a danger to residents than do their other neighbors, such as the Calcasieu Lumber Co. on Burleson Road. "There's issues of fire and safety, proximity to the neighborhood, quality of life, and environmental hazards," Howison says. Kensington Park, he notes, "is a unique, beautiful spot" with natural ponds fed by Todd Parker Springs, which flow into Williamson Creek and then on to McKinney Falls.
Rick Carpenter, a BFI regional manager, acknowledges that his company is the "bad guy" in this situation. "The bottom line is, they don't want us there. Period," he says. But Carpenter adds that BFI is making a good-faith effort to address neighborhood concerns. For one thing, he says, all the recycling material -- primarily paper and cardboard -- will be stored in a fully enclosed building, unlike the Bolm Road facility. For another, a buffer zone has already been extended to 250 feet. While Carpenter allows that the new site "is not as centrally located as we would have liked," he says there was no other viable property available that had everything BFI needs to run its shop: a rail line, city utilities, and a major highway nearby.
At any rate, Carpenter says it was the city that suggested the Winnebago Lane site, along with a few other locations, during condemnation proceedings. "I wasn't even aware the property was available," Carpenter says. "I didn't know it existed until I rented a helicopter and flew over it while I was doing a site search." Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner, who is overseeing the BFI relocation on the city's end, did not return a phone call by press time.
As the situation now stands, BFI is once again at the mercy of the city. The company is awaiting administrative site-plan approval from the city Development Review and Inspection Department, as well as the Board of Adjustment's okay on two variances: one that would allow the company to reduce the required number of parking spaces to 40, and another to build closer to the rail line, or spur, which juts out from the main Union Pacific tracks running alongside Burleson Road. The board, in a 4-1 vote, denied the variances in August, but will reconsider the case Oct. 9, when BFI comes back on appeal. When that happens, neighborhood opponents vow to turn out in force to oppose both the variances and the overall project.