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


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

The more than 1,000-acre former ranch near Lake Travis is slated to become residential housing and a golf course, according to that initial plan. It’s going to be called “Travis Club,” previously known as “Vizcaya.”

A spokesperson for the owners and developers was in court Tuesday asking commissioners to approve the preliminary plan for the property which he said was actually already approved by commissioners once before, almost exactly as is, back in 2008. In 2009, that said, one of the financial partners involved in the deal filed for bankruptcy and the development of that property essentially paused. 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 asking your to reaffirm the preliminary under basically the same rules that it was approved under in 2008,” a spokesperson for the developer said.

It wasn’t until last fall that county staff informed the developers that approval of the preliminary plan had actually expired, the spokesperson said. They’re now navigating county red tape that had previously been cleared.

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

Meanwhile, residents in the area are concerned about traffic, water usage, construction safety and perhaps most vocally, the Golden-Cheeked Warblers in the area.

According to a release, Blair Wildlife Consulting was asked to do a study of the rare birds near and on that property. It found more than 40 of the birds on that plot.

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

“Mature Ash Junipers are a habitat for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler which has been cited in the area,” a resident of a nearby community also noted in her public comment. She also spoke about traffic concerns and the dangers of construction traffic in the area.

That’s where Commissioner Ann Howard has concerns as well. A traffic impact analysis has not been complete for the property despite the preliminary plan being before commissioners again. There is a backlog in that process on the city’s side, the revealed court. It could take between six and nine months for that TIA to be complete.

“I just think it delays any action that could result in greater transportation safety measures being put in place, when we know that nothing about the development in terms of the number of units, the configuration is likely to change through the TIA process,” the Commissioner Brigid Shea countered.

The court voted on the preliminary plan twice. The first time, commissioners failed to approve it, with Howard and Travis County Judge Andy Brown voting against the motion. Commissioner Jeff Travillion opted out of the vote. Three ‘yes’ votes is the magic number.

Commissioners then opted to approve parts of the plan with a condition that forces the developer to come back before court prior to building his first plot. When they do return, they’ll need that TIA. Shea and Brown voted against it, but it ultimately passed.

“I don’t think delaying all of this by six-to-nine months particularly addresses that issue,” Shea said. She did ask the developers to take another look at environmental best practices, but said if the development is going to happen, she thinks the delay is unnecessary.

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