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Draft 2 of CodeNEXT is open for public comment until October 31st. This updated version of the City of Austin’s Land Development Code simplifies the many zone categories after feedback from Draft 1.

Other Updates include:

  • more allowances for residential development
  • removal of “transect” and “non-transect” corridors
  • simplified site plan requirements to help move along permitting for projects that are smaller, such as 3-9 unit residential developments

Since the new code aims to increase the total number of housing units, residents are concerned about the influx of traffic in areas likely to be redeveloped into higher-occupancy units. The City hopes to add 135,000 new housing units by 2025 with 65,000 of those for families earning less than the median family income.

The Austin City Council kicked off their Open House series last Wednesday at City Hall. Representatives from CodeNEXT were on hand to answer questions.

 

What’s Next:

Fall 2017 – Open Houses

November 2017 – Draft 3 (Final) to be released

January 2018 – Deadline for Zoning and Platting Commission to make their recommendation to City Council

April 2018 – City Council to approve final version

 

To review Draft 2 and make public comments, visit the City of Austin website.

Handouts from the Event: Building Height & Compatibility Triggers | Impervious Cover & Building Cover | Spectrum of Zones

Posted by: In: Events 06 Sep 2017 0 comments

The Texas special legislative session has ended, and a bill regarding a state wide standard for tree removal has been signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott.  Prior tree removal standards have been administered by municipalities, such as Austin’s Protected Tree Ordinance and Heritage Tree Ordinance, to determine protection and mitigation measures for trees on private property.  These standards resulted in a variety of size limits and mitigation fees for tree removal from city to city, whereas the new law will set a requirement  of trees with a trunk diameter of 10 inches or greater to pay a removal mitigation fee which can be offset with the on-site planting of new trees.  Fees can only be offset with on-site plantings by 40% on commercial properties, and by 50% for residential developers.  Residential homeowners can completely eliminate tree removal fees by planting trees on-site.

Governor Abbott had vetoed a similar tree removal bill that addressed mitigation measures to offset municipal fees associated with tree removals during the regular session because he did not believe it went far enough to protect private property rights.  He encouraged lawmakers to draft a bill that gave property owners more flexibility to remove trees and streamline the tree removal process statewide during the special session.  The Texas House and Senate made efforts to advance multiple bills before compromising on House Bill 7 that was signed into law on August 16, 2017.

The more than 90 tree removal municipal ordinances throughout the state will be replaced by the new statewide law on December 1, 2017, until then current municipal standards will stay in place.  While tree removal and mitigation vary throughout the state, most require that a tree survey be conducted by a Certified Arborist to determine the size and type of trees on a property.  aci consulting performs tree surveys and can assist with tree removal permitting and mitigation procedures throughout Texas under the current and upcoming standards.

Read House Bill 7

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced a 6-month extension on their decision whether or not to add the Texas Hornshell (Popenaias popeii) to the List of Endangered and Threatened Species. The decision comes after disagreement on the status of the species in Mexico.

The comment period has reopened and will remain open until September 11, 2017.

The Service will make a final determination on or before February 10, 2018.

-Read the Federal Register Announcement-

Background:
The Texas Hornshell has been on and off the candidate species lists for more than 25 years, and in 2001 the Service entered into two settlement agreements regarding the species.

Efforts are being made in Texas and New Mexico to preserve the species. In Texas, the Nature Conservancy and state wildlife regulators are managing their lands in the Devils River watershed to reduce sediment and contaminant runoff.

The New Mexico State Land Office (NMSLO) is entering into a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) with the Service. If the Service ultimately adds the species to the List, NMSLO grantees and lessees will have 30 days to enroll in the CCAA if they want to be considered for participation in that program.

aci consulting performs surveys and relocation of this species and other State-listed species.

08/10/2016 Proposed Rule to List
05/30/2017 Comment Period Reopened

On June 5, 2017, The Texas General Land Office (TXGLO), represented by lawyers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) regarding the status of the golden-cheeked warbler (Warbler) as an endangered species. The lawsuit states:

  • The Service has failed to designate critical habitat since the warbler’s listing more than 25 years ago,
  • The Service did not follow its own rules in the 90-Day Finding for the 2015 Petition to Delist, and
  • The Service has failed to look at the best scientific data available.

The lawsuit requests relief in the form of:

  1. The court declaring the final rule listing violated the Service’s nondiscretionary duty because they failed to designate critical habitat and that the final rule is unlawful,
  2. The court declaring the 90-Day Finding on the Petition to Delist violated the law by failing to consider the best scientific data available, and
  3. The Court declaring the final rule listing unlawful, and that the refusal to delist the warbler is unlawful because Defendants failed to comply with NEPA.

The TXGLO claims that the warbler’s listing significantly impacts the market value of certain TXGLO lands diminishing their ability to receive revenue from Texas public lands for the benefit of Texas schoolchildren.

 

2015 Petition to Delist

90-Day Finding

2017 Lawsuit

 

Posted by: In: Karst 02 Jun 2017 0 comments

In limestone terrains, karst is expressed by variably developed cavernous porosity and the manifestations of sinkholes, voids, and erratic surface drainage.  Karst landscapes are typical of the Edwards Limestone, occurring across a vast region of Central Texas, west of the Balcones Escarpment, and these processes are critical to understanding the Edwards aquifer within its various segments.  The features produced by karst processes (voids, holes, and solution layers) eventually provide conduits for surface water runoff and “point recharge” for the Edwards aquifer.

The identification and protection of these features in established recharge areas is critical to maintaining groundwater quality and species habitat.  The TCEQ, as well as local governing bodies, require protective strategies within these areas to maintain quantity and quality of recharge prior to, during, and upon completion of construction activities. More broadly, the understanding of karst environments is key, as karst landscape covers as much as 10% of the Earth’s surface, and supplies water to as much as a quarter of the world’s population (USGS). aci consulting works with private and public clients on a range of projects necessary for the protection of the karst environment around Central Texas, from TCEQ Geologic Assessments, Karst Surveys for Regional Habitat Conservation Plan Applications, City and Local Environmental Assessments, USFWS karst species cave maintenance and management, and the management of voids encountered during construction.

As illustrated below, caves (features with natural openings that are enterable by a human) and voids (spaces encountered during construction or other activities) form by the dissolution of limestone, and the re-precipitation of calcium carbonate.

The volume of void space is determined by the placement and movement through time of the water table, and interconnected caves or voids can allow for the transfer of air, water, and even species, like the various Central Texas salamander species, and the karst bugs that are unique to Williamson County. Additionally, the study of cave formations (stalactites and stalagmites) can help scientists determine how long ago caves formed, and what local and regional climate conditions were like (namely temperature and precipitation). In 2016, aci consulting worked to connect clients who had encountered voids on their projects with scientists from Dr. Jay Banner’s group at The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences and Environmental Science Institute. Dr. Banner’s students worked with aci consulting staff to extract stalagmite and stalactite samples (called speleothems more generally) from several voids north of Austin. Graduate students are currently working on dating these samples and utilizing them for paleoclimate studies. Additionally, some materials have been incorporated into an exhibit in the Jackson School of Geosciences building on UT’s campus. This exhibit will aid UT in spreading knowledge about the importance of karst environments to UT students, campus visitors, and K-12 participants in the Environmental Science Institute’s outreach programs.

References

UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI) “What is Karst”

US Geological Survey (USGS) “Karst Topography—Teacher’s Guide and Paper Model”

The Bone Cave harvestman, a blind, cave-dwelling spider found in Travis and Williamson Counties, Texas has been at the center of a heated debate since its listing in 1988.
On June 2, 2014, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) was petitioned to delist the species. An original 90-day finding was published on June 1, 2015 that the petition did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action was warranted. On December 15, 2015, the petitioners challenged the decision in Federal District Court. Subsequent information was submitted in October 2016 by the petitioners and the petition was re-evaluated.
On May 4, 2017, the Service announced its second 90-day finding that the petition still does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the delisting may be warranted.
This decision ends the Service’s formal consideration of the petition, but the Service is currently conducting a five-year review of the Bone Cave harvestman as required by section 4(c)(2)(A) of the Endangered Species Act.
The Service is encouraging the public to submit any new information that becomes available concerning the status of, or threats to, the Bone Cave harvestman or its habitat for their consideration.