$700M housing project set for Southwest Austin watershed

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AUSTIN (AP) — Crews are doing prep work on a $700 million project in a watershed area that’s expected to bring more housing and commercial space to Austin.

The project is called Tecoma and is being handled by Austin-based developer Stratus Properties Inc. It’s expected to bring more than 1,800 apartments and townhomes, over a million square feet of commercial space and a golf course to Austin.

Beau Armstrong, president, chairman and CEO of Stratus, said Tecoma will bring new retail, restaurant and entertainment options to an area that’s currently lacking them.

Stratus plans to build 300 apartments and 200,000 square feet of commercial space during the first phase of construction, which is set to begin later this year. The project is expected to be complete in seven years.

Tecoma will occupy about 650 acres on the north side of Southwest Parkway, an area that sparked an environmental debate in 1990. Hundreds of Austin residents mobilized against a Barton Creek development plan by starting the Save Our Springs movement. Two years later, voter approved the environmental group’s measure to improve water quality by placing stricter limits on development in the area.

City officials said they’re allowing the Stratus to build part of its project under less strict environmental rules because the firm’s preliminary plans were approved before the Save Our Springs Ordinance was passed.

Armstrong said the project will still consider the environment through water-quality protection measures and sustainable features.

“We learned very valuable lessons during Austin’s environmental battles during the early 1990s,” Armstrong said. “Stratus has become a huge proponent of sustainable development and has been pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for all of our major projects. Not only do we believe it makes business sense, but it is also the right environmental approach.”

Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said the local environmental group opposes the Tecoma project and will pay close attention as Stratus maneuvers around the ordinance during the approval process.

“It’s absurd to say it is protecting the environment when they are claiming grandfathering from the ordinance so they can build under the older, much weaker standards,” Bunch said.

According to the newspaper, experts said development in the Barton Springs watershed is negatively impacting the quality of water in which 750,000 people swim annually. Groundwater from an aquifer beneath the watershed provides drinking water to 70,000 Central Texans.

“We definitely think that urbanization and increased disposal of wastewater in the Barton Springs zone are the cause of nitrogen increases and in general the degrading water quality in Barton Springs,” said Chris Herrington, an environmental engineer for the city of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department.

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