Friday, June 29, 2007

Floods and PUDs


There's about to be a new PUD in town. If you don't live in my hometown, you may not know a PUD is a Planed Unit Development. Developers like these because get to bypass local use restrictions for some reason which has never been clear to me.

Beautifully named and grotesquely ill-conceived, Wildflower Commons is a proposed development at the intersection of SH 45 and MOPAC which needs zoning changes, a new PUD from the City and exemption from TxDot road restructions which the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) controls.

The project will sit on top of one of the most fragile aquifers in the country, and on the Barton Springs Recharge Zone. The developer, Bill "Scooter" Walters has offered BSEACD a 49 acre tract across road so they can build a new office park. They would need 2 acres of the land for offices. The local land conservancy, the Hill Country Conservancy would get the rest. BSEACD would, of course, build green and carefully. They would also be part of the proposed PUD, helping it get thru city hoops, and BSEACD is the agency with the right to exempt (itself) and Wildflower Commons from the road restrictions which protect the whole recharge zone from development. Why, you ask, would a water conservation agency build it's offices (causing pollution) on the aquifer it's supposed to protect?

Local readers can learn more about this on the SOS website. You can write to BSEACD asking them not to accept this "gift" which will further pollute the aquifer.

Kudos to Austin Energy (and OZ) for the MSNBC designation of Austin as America's #1 Green City, a credit based on the plug-in hybird cars program, and the Public Utility's green energy programs. We have a long way to go on water issues.

Floods this week (the San Gabriel River in Georgetown rose 25 feet in fifteen minutes) and a short spot I watched on the Local Access City Council channel of Austin's Mayor saying he lives in a Flood Proof high rise exactly where the Memorial Day flood of 1981 deposited 30 feet of water underline the point — we have a long way to go on water issues.

(The Memorial Day Flood, 1981)

All of it. The Steinway Grand Piano floating down 6th Street to the river, a man on water skis rescuing people off the tops of traffic lights, the water dragon that flew out of Shoal Creek starting a stampede of brocade furniture, needlepoint drapes, footstools, recliner rocking chairs, china cabinets, bedroom sets, lampshades, Toyotas stacked up in the creek, jammed between velvet swivel chairs and electric organs, clarinet reeds, whole wheat noodles, Red Star nutritional yeast, vitamins, herbs, coffee beans, organic carrots, short-grained brown rice, yogurt covered walnuts, a Volkswagen diving through a convenience store window, three blocks of downtown Austin buried under 30 feet of water. Where did it come from? A travel agency dumped out, Xerox copies of vacation reservations, electric guitars, Dodge vans, barbecue buns soaked through and buried under 2 feet of mud, the Red River Women’s Press printing equipment under a great lump of creek silt, typesetting machine squished through with slop, the best restaurant in town for health food lunches jangled up and clumped together with a bug exterminator across the street, pieces overlapping. All of it. The work of a few hours when Shoal Creek exploded breaking three blocks of showcase windows, leaving jagged edges of glass gleaming under humid sun at noon the next day, leaving people digging out, finding bodies locked in cars, in the tops of trees, not finding bodies, leaving no flood insurance upstream where a mile of houses was destroyed, complete loss, people glad to be alive. There was no warning. Where did it come from? All of it, streets turned to rivers, homes turned to underwater caves. Where did it come from?

It came from the growth corridor, set down by an Idiot, on the Shoal Creek watershed. For a decade trailer rigs churning 80 mph into town at night, when no one was looking, folded out hydraulic lifts, jacked up and wheeled out churches with people praying inside, wheeled out shopping centers with neon flashing blue light specials, wheeled out whole communities with community centers and voting precincts, wheeled out schools with children playing at recess, wheeled out boutiques, wheeled out car dealerships, drug stores, discount centers, supermarkets, pizza parlors, fried chicken, motels, wheeled out fire hydrants and wide paved streets, driveways, parking lots, pavement for rollerskating, driving, parking, pavement for playing tennis, wheeled out flags on the 4th of July, wheeled out 2.5 cars per family unit, motor boats and electronic games, wheeled out animal shelters and carnivals. All of it, over night, wheeled out of the Idiot, a gigantic trailer rig full of urban sprawl that pulled up and dumped out a million-faceted vision of itself on the watershed of Shoal Creek so that the work of a bad storm had no place else to go but down, down across slick pavement, run-off plunging down in a great gash pushing 30 feet of water into downtown Austin. They call it the Memorial Day Flood, but its name is IDIOT.

For example, at a city Planning Commission hearing 2 weeks after the great flood, mud still gleaming in summer heat all over town, bodies still being recovered from swamps and the river bottom, a developer wanted to set an 8 story apartment complex down on the top of 2 creek beds north of town. When asked what he was going to do about the creeks he said, We’re goin’ ta move ‘em.

© 1981, Susan Bright, from Atomic Basket (out of print)

Flash Flood Alley
here are some clips from the award winning film about flood potential in Central Texas.

* (PICA OBD484-A, Austin History Center)
The flood of 1935 (June 15) was one of three major floods to hit the area in the 1930's. Austin was hit with 22 inches of rain in three hours. Between 2,500 and 3,000 residents in East Austin (near present-day IH-35 and the river bank) were left virtually homeless after the waters receded. A Statesman article described the situation: "Sloppy silt was deposited to a depth of from six to 18 inches on the floors, over furniture, bed clothing and in fact everything that the glue-like mud could fasten itself upon, and only the most rugged articles of furniture could be salvaged. South Congress Avenue between Barton Springs Road and the Texas School for the Deaf was a crumpled mass of ruins, the street being littered with broken sewer lines torn from business buildings that once stood in the area, broken concrete, twisted water pipes, signs, trees, timbers, structural steel, a number of the new concrete lamp posts erected a month ago by the city and other debris. The street, the pride of Austin and of the state highway department presented a wretched scene. The Montopolis and Marble Falls bridges were also both destroyed..

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

The Plain View Press e-store is now online.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

PUD is Planned Unit Development, not Public Utility District. You may be thinking of MUD (Municipal Utility District). Sound the same, but very different. MUDs are formed to bring utilities outside of cities, PUD is a form of mixed-use zoning within city limits.

I think you also mean Kudos, not Cudos.

1:06 PM  
Blogger SB said...


The acronyms drive me nuts. They will need the zoning changes because at the moment the area is zones for single family. They want office parks and a hotel as well. And more access roads into the development. Fixed the reference.


1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I really didn't know our flooding was such an expected occurrence.


8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way -- the tract in question is part of the original Bradley Tract. Bradley sued the city for "takings" when our water regulations kept him from making the profit he expected. About the only thing the City got out of the deal was road access restrictions. BSEACD controls these. Should they choose to accept the land, and choose to allow new road cuts -- a huge part of the re-charge zone will be ripe for build out.


8:35 AM  

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