Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"I do not believe the county commissioners made a decision today that is in the best interests of their constituency."

Commissioners approve subdivision on busy Texas 71

Critics say RGK Ranch will bring more traffic to already dangerous highway.

August 22, 2007

By Marty Toohey
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The Travis County commissioners approved plans Tuesday for a 1,500-home Hill Country subdivision, over the objections of some residents who say it would bring too much traffic and threaten the area's streams and creeks.

The subdivision, RGK Ranch, will be built on about 1,500 acres along Texas 71, about eight miles west of Austin. It will sit between the Sweetwater Lazy 9 and West Cypress Hills developments, which are in the early phases of construction and will each have a similar number of residents.

The county commissioners approved RGK by a 4-1 vote. Their decision came after months of hearings and delays, during which most of the commissioners said they probably could not deny RGK Ranch because it meets the county's requirements, an assessment echoed by the county's legal staff.

Commissioner Ron Davis was the lone 'no' vote Tuesday, saying the county should turn down the subdivision because it presents a general threat to the safety and welfare of people living in southwestern Travis County.

In the months leading up to a decision, the debate about RGK Ranch became at times a referendum on Texas 71 West and Hill Country growth in general.

Everyone agrees that stretch of Texas 71 is dangerous, citing at least three fatal wrecks last year and three more this year. In the RGK debate, some residents did not even mention the RGK Ranch while urging the commissioners to seek a lower speed limit or massive upgrade of Texas 71 (both of which fall to the Texas Department of Transportation).

Some critics argued that the state of Texas 71 was reason enough to reject RGK Ranch.

"I do not believe the county commissioners made a decision today that is in the best interests of their constituency," said Karen Huber, who lives near the project and is one of its most vocal critics.

Gerald Daugherty, the county commissioner whose precinct includes RGK Ranch, said Huber's line of thinking is illegal and would not get Texas 71 fixed any faster.

"Our goal should be fixing the road," Daugherty said.

Critics raised other concerns about RGK Ranch. The Hill Country Alliance, a coalition of neighbors who are upset about the pace of Hill Country development, said the subdivision should be rejected because it was not required to follow some of the county's current environmental rules.

It did not have to because plans for RGK Ranch were submitted before those rules came into effect two years ago.

But Greg Kozmetsky, whose family owns the RGK property, wrote in a letter Friday to the county commissioners that the project should satisfy everyone's concerns and would voluntarily meet or exceed most of the county's rules, such as covering no more than 20 percent of the property with roads, houses or other substances that block water from soaking into the ground.

"I believe critics of the plan haven't really criticized the plan," Kozmetsky wrote, "but the fact we have one."

During the final weeks of discussion, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt persuaded the Kozmetsky family to sign a contract requiring RGK Ranch to follow most of the county's requirements.

Eckhardt said the county could not require more of the Kozmetskys, especially when they were willing to compromise.

She added, however, that because the county's rules are not strict enough, she was left "to make another decision that leaves a bad taste in my mouth."; 445-3673

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