Birds, traffic, water: Battle over proposed Spicewood development lands again in commissioners’ court

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Residents are battling a planned development in Spicewood, citing concerns about endangered birds in the area, traffic issues and water use. Travis County commissioners narrowly approved the developer’s preliminary plan with conditions that will require the group to return to court with a traffic impact analysis in hand before the real work begins.

The 1,000+ acre former ranch near Lake Travis is expected to become residential housing and a golf course, according to this initial plan. It will be called “Travis Club”, formerly known as “Vizcaya”.

A spokesman for the owners and developers was in court on Tuesday asking the commissioners to approve the preliminary plan for the property which he said had already been approved by the commissioners once before, almost exactly as it was, in 2008. In 2009, this spokesperson said, one of the financial partners involved in the deal filed for bankruptcy and development of this property essentially came to a halt. It will be more than 270 single-family lots, 220 villas and a golf course.

“It’s a long journey to be here, but we’re here today to ask you to reaffirm the draft under essentially the same rules as it was approved in 2008,” a developer spokesperson said.

It wasn’t until last fall that county staff informed developers that approval for the preliminary plan had in fact expired, the spokesperson said. They are now navigating county bureaucracy that had already been erased.

“It hit us like a ton of bricks,” he said. “They had hoped to be under construction now.”

Meanwhile, area residents are concerned about traffic, water usage, construction safety, and perhaps most vocally, the area’s golden-cheeked warblers.

According to a statement, Blair Wildlife Consulting has been commissioned to do a study of rare birds near and on this property. He found over 40 of the birds on this plot.

“Maybe there was no malicious intent, but there was clearing on the property during the warbler’s nesting season. I think that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. What I’m hearing is there’s been no repercussions for that,” said a representative for Kent Radford and his family. Radford lives in that area. “There needs to be measures to additional attenuation required.”

“Mature Montagu’s Junipers are habitat for the Golden-cheeked Warbler that has been cited in the area,” a resident of a nearby community also noted in her public comment. She also spoke about traffic issues and the dangers of construction traffic in the area.

This is also where Commissioner Ann Howard is concerned. A traffic impact analysis has not been completed for the property despite the preliminary plan being back before the commissioners. There is a backlog in that process on the city side, the court found. It could take between six and nine months for this TIA to be complete.

“I just think it delays any action that might result in more significant transport security measures being put in place, when we know nothing about the development in terms of the number of units, the configuration is likely to change through the TIA process,” the commissioner said. Brigid Shea replied.

The court voted twice on the preliminary plan. The first time around, the commissioners did not approve it, with Howard County Judge Andy Brown and Travis voting against the motion. Commissioner Jeff Travillion withdrew from the vote. Three “yes” votes is the magic number.

The commissioners then opted to approve parts of the plan with a condition that requires the developer to return to court before building their first plot. When they come back, they’ll need that TIA. Shea and Brown voted against it, but it eventually passed.

“I don’t think delaying all of this for six to nine months particularly solves that problem,” Shea said. She asked the developers to review environmental best practices, but said if development were to proceed, she believes the delay is unnecessary.

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