Watershed AMD Saga Bulldozes On

A favorable City Council ruling brings development closer to reality

The proposed Advanced Micro Devices campus in the Barton Springs watershed moved one step closer to becoming a reality this week, when the city ruled that the site could be developed with higher impervious cover limits than current water quality regulations allow. The land is owned by Stratus Properties, which in 2001 hammered out a massive deal with the city that grandfathered development rights to vast tracts of southwest Austin. Save Our Springs Alliance, however, has questioned the legitimacy of the grandfathering claims on the AMD site. The original plans for the site called for retail development, not office space, so SOSA argues that a change of project (i.e., from retail to office) should be treated as a new, nongrandfathered project. SOSA also argues that the issue has implications beyond the AMD fight: Texas law allows developers great leeway to claim grandfathering rights based on extremely preliminary development plans; cities' best defense against developers filing sham applications for the sole purpose of getting grandfathered out of looming environmental ordinances is to demand that developers either move forward with their original plan, or develop under current regulations.

SOSA, which opposes AMD's move out of commitment to the idea that major employers don't belong in the Barton Springs watershed, may now take the issue to court.

Meanwhile, the issue is still being tried in the court of public opinion. The PR efforts of SOS Alliance have so far included an online petition (now some 15,000 strong), Chronicle ads, billboards, flying aerial banners over the AMD-sponsored Austin City Limits Festival, and flying in an apparently poorly briefed Robert Redford to mumble some generic development-is-bad pabulum by the Barton Springs pool. The latest front is hand-delivery of letters to neighbors of Hector Ruiz, in which SOSA head Bill Bunch decries the AMD CEO as a bad, bad corporate citizen. Recipients included residents of Ruiz's swanky Hill Country 'hood as well as neighbors of his second, no doubt equally swank, abode in Palo Alto, Calif. We'd love to know the response of the Palo Altoans to a three-page, single-spaced letter full of references to one Edwards Aquifer, something called Barton Springs, and a desired development something-or-other, but our Palo Alto stringer is unfortunately on vacation.

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development, AMD, Save Our Springs Alliance, Hector Ruiz, grandfathering

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