Mitigation Goes Nowhere

Both developers and enviros shoot down staff's new ideas for aquifer development

A proposed mitigation policy that sought to please both sides in the ongoing struggle to protect Barton Springs ended up pleasing no one, so city staffers are taking a second stab at crafting a more palatable development policy over the aquifer. Had the process moved according to plan, the City Council would be voting today (Thursday) on proposed new guidelines for developing properties in the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. But with the proposal's return to the starting gate, the council will not likely see the revisions until the fall.

City Council had asked staff to craft a policy to guide how developers would be allowed to "cluster" impervious cover on one tract while preserving land elsewhere to mitigate the impact. This strategy has been accepted by the council in several high-profile aquifer cases – the Forum PUD, the Stratus Properties settlement, and most recently the Brodie Lane Lowe's Home Centers project – and was floated as a key element of the suggested, but now abandoned, plan to expand Temple-Inland's headquarters complex on South MoPac. But in each of these cases, the city and the developer have basically had to make up ad hoc mitigation rules as they've gone along, and the council has indicated it wants to take a more consistent, predictable approach to the issue. Hence the need for a policy.

As proposed by staff, the policy – subject of several sparsely attended public hearings last month, and heard by city boards and commissions earlier this month (all of which rejected it) – would allow developers to exceed the impervious cover limits in the 1992 Save Our Springs Ordinance. The policy also addressed how, and how much, developers would pay for the acquisition and ongoing maintenance of mitigation lands elsewhere. But developers say the higher impervious cover limits would not offset the costs of the mitigation requirements and that the policy falls far short of the actual amendment to SOS that at least some real estate types would like to see. Environmentalists, meanwhile, were alarmed that the subject was being broached in the first place, and are concerned that large employers would gleefully take advantage of a "mitigation" opportunity to build projects and create sprawl that will do irreversible harm to the aquifer and springs. Temple-Inland, for example, had sought a variance from its SOS limitations to expand another 200,000 square feet over the aquifer. Facing strong opposition, the company backed off from that idea before a formal proposal ever materialized.

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Barton Springs, Edwards Aquifer, SOS, Temple-Inland Inc., mitigation policy, Save Our Springs Ordinance

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