City Plans for Webberville Land Cause Big Stink

Austin may use 2,800 acres of undeveloped land owned by Austin Energy for industrial purposes

Contentious plans are taking shape this week as to how the city of Austin may use approximately 2,800 acres of undeveloped land owned by Austin Energy near the village of Webber-ville, about 15 miles to the east. Meanwhile, some of Webberville's residents and elected officials have been shaping their hands into fists and shaking them in the direction of Austin City Hall, frustrated by the city's accelerating progress toward something it said less than a year ago it had no plans to do: develop the land into an industrial site. Today (Thursday) City Council could pass a resolution codifying its intentions to use the tract for one (or more) of the following purposes: an electric power plant, a wastewater-treatment plant, or a solid-waste landfill (as part of a so-called eco-industrial park) – and furthermore direct the city manager to initiate an environmental site assessment for the aforementioned land uses. Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras and Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros reported to council last week that the site has "no fatal flaws" precluding it from use as a solid-waste area and that long-range water planning indicated the need for a Northeast wastewater plant. Council unanimously agreed last May to retain the land and directed staff to conduct the initial land-use assessment, which was done with the assistance of an outside engineering consultant.

But with the ink still drying on this week's draft council resolution, designs for an eco-industrial park – which could house landfill, recycling, and composting facilities, as well as interrelated "green-collar" waste diversion businesses – are well under way. "All the planning from the very beginning has been for an eco-industrial environmental area," Lumbreras said. The property is seen as key to "providing needed public services in the city's desired development zone," he said, couching the city's motivations as a means "to control our destiny" when it comes to long-range waste planning. Such a facility is consistent with the city's climate protection and zero-waste goals, he said, but "the city has no intention of accepting waste from outside Austin or Travis County" at the site. If council passes the resolution, Lumbreras said, another six to 12 months of environmental analysis will take place. A master plan could later be drafted, he said, which would look at maximizing "synergies" between all the site's identified uses – i.e., a possible solid-waste site/waste-treatment plant twofer.

"For three years, I've been saying publicly that this is their plan, and they've denied it," said Webberville Mayor Hector Gonzales. If no such industrial schemes were at work, the actions of late represent "a lot of nonplan­ning," Gonzales said. He went on to articulate fears that an industrial site could depress land values, harm groundwater, and possibly scare off the anticipated 1,100-acre, $1.5 billion Villa Muse mixed-use development, planned less than a half-mile from the tract. Gonzales claims industrial uses are inconsistent with Webberville's development plans and that historical and natural features within the parcel merit preservation. Webberville has repeatedly offered to buy the land back.

Travis Co. Commissioner Ron Davis, whose Precinct 1 includes the tract, bellowed over the phone that the plans are "a clear slap in the face to constituents in Precinct 1, who are sick of getting dumped on" and are proof that East Austin/West Austin "divisiveness" still continues. Following last week's report, Davis said he sent a letter to council urging it to delay action until the Commis­sion­ers Court could address the issue. "This [week's] item is doing exactly what I asked them not to do. The community is outraged, and I feel like I've been slighted."

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Webberville, Austin Energy, Bert Lumbreras, Greg Meszaros

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