Steps to Protect the Aquifer

I just posted this to the ANC list in response to what we can do to protect the aquifer if we can’t stop Hayes County from building tons of homes over it.

Well obviously the answer is not going to be easy or popular. Otherwise the aquaifer would be completely protected and we’d be done talking about this. I do have 3 places where I think ANC could switch course and be a major force for positive change, however. I am aware these would be nigh impossible to implement due to their unpopularity. Nonetheless.

The top reason people cite for moving to places like Hayes County is more house for less money. So obviously in Austin we need more houses to lower prices, and we need them to be bigger. This will sop up demand in places like Hayes if people can live where they want (inside the Austin City Limits) in a reasonably (their definition not ours) sized house.

1) Repealing the McMansion ordinance addresses the size issue. There are other ways to deal with issues of large houses blocking out light from people’s windows (I can send this out if anyone’s interested). Every time we don’t let people build a 2500 square foot house in central Austin they seem to go out and build a 3500 square foot house over the aquifer. We need to couch this in terms of what’s more important – how close your neighbor is to you or Austin’s water supply?

2) Allow automatic density doubling. This addresses supply. If a lot currently has a single-family house allow a duplex. If a lot currently has a duplex automatically allow a four-plex. Remove all restrictions on vertical mixed use on our arterial roads.

3) Encourage developers to overbuild office buildings. 803 Barton Springs ran afoul of the waterfront planning commission, but at some point we need to ask what’s more important. The view from the water, or the water that fills Lady Bird Lake itself. ANC should have pushed to have the developer match the height of the buildings on either side to have extra space to lease to employers lowering prices for companies moving downtown and getting cars out of West Austin and off the aquifer.

All of these issues are ones that ANC and SOS are intimately involved in. I don’t expect anyone to change their views on this, but I think it does explain why there’s little hope for stopping development over the aquifer. We can’t stop Hayes County from building. The only thing we can do is provide so much supply in Travis County that there’s no demand.