SOS, Stratus Split in Court

At a hearing last week before District Judge Jeanne Meurer, the city of Austin, Stratus Properties, and the Save Our Springs Alliance each got some of what they wanted in their court dispute over development in the Barton Springs Watershed. From one side of the courtroom, the city and Stratus won a partial victory when Meurer dismissed a key section of the alliance's lawsuit. That portion contested the legality of the deal Stratus made with the city last summer. SOS says that deal was brokered from a starting point of Stratus' "grandfather" claims, meaning the developer wouldn't have to comply with the existing Save Our Springs Ordinance. The enviro group argued that SOS trumps state law (Chapter 245 of the Local Government Code, née HB 1704), because the proposed development presented the threat of imminent harm to the Edwards Aquifer.

Meurer rejected this argument, agreeing with the city that, since the Stratus deal had been approved in August by the City Council by the 6-1 margin needed to override the SOS ordinance, the alliance's challenge was moot. However, this allows SOS to continue its challenge similar grandfather claims on other undeveloped property in the watershed. The judge granted SOS attorney Amy Johnson a continuance on the city's motion for summary judgment on the rest of the lawsuit. Johnson says SOS executive director and counsel Bill Bunch would return from his sabbatical in Prague to handle matters. This case remains on hold while another SOS lawsuit against the Stratus deal moves forward.

Stratus owns another 1,000 acres and the developer intends to broker a similar agreement with the city on those tracts.

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