Editor’s note: Randall Jamieson, River Place Firewise Coordinator, sent the following letter on Oct. 3 to Jimmy Flannigan, District 6 city council member, Mayor Steve Adler and Alison Atler, District 10 council member. This involves the proposed Milestone Community Builders project at the end of Milky Way Drive. No vote was taken at the Oct. 3 meeting and council members continues to work on understanding the rules and laws as it applies to this case.
Dear Council Member Flannigan,
As someone who has spent much of my career working in the field of safety and has worked closely with the remarkable men and women at the Austin Fire Department (AFD), including the AFD Wildfire Division, to keep River Place and surrounding Travis County communities safe from the very real threat of wildfire, I feel compelled to write this open letter to ask why you are putting the interests of outside developers above the safety of your constituents residing in River Place?
For those less engaged in the issue of wildfire safety, after the devastating local wildfires in 2011, including one in neighboring Steiner Ranch, Austin City Council, on which Mr. Flannigan sits representing District 6, which includes River Place, passed a resolution which provides in part “The City Council establishes the goal of zero wildland fire related fatalities.” As part of that resolution, the AFD Wildfire Division was instructed to identify those areas in the city of Austin subject to the highest risk of wildfire. As you know, Mr. Flannigan, because of it topography and surrounding wildlands, River Place was identified as being subject to the “highest risk” of wildfire in every metric identified.
You also know, Mr. Flannigan, that the River Place community is accessed/connected to RR 2222 by a single road, that road being River Place Blvd. River Place Blvd and its access to RR 2222 is a critical lifeline for the over 4,000 River Place residents who might at some point need to evacuate if the community is threatened by wildfire.
Even though you are aware of River Place’s high wildfire risk and its evacuation’s being reliant on access to RR 2222 from River Place Blvd., you have continued to advocate for a zoning variance for the developer Milestone to build a high density development in excess of 100 units at the entrance to River Place without requiring, at a minimum, Milestone to secure an alternate full use public access road to RR 2222. To be very clear, Mr. Flannigan, you are advocating a position that will cause River Place residents to be mired in traffic behind at least another 100 cars from the Milestone development in case of an emergency evacuation.
Common sense and statistics show that the ability to promptly evacuate away from a wildfire is the best way to survive it. In starkest terms, being stuck in traffic behind an additional 100 or more cars does not statistically bode well in this regard.
Mr. Flannigan, River Place is part of your district and its residents are your constituents whose interests you have a duty to represent. Why then, Mr. Flannigan, are you not advocating for the safety and lives of your own constituents living in River Place but instead advocating for the interests of an outside developer, Milestone? Why then, Mr. Flannigan, are you not working toward the goal of zero wildland related fatalities but instead advocating a development that so clearly interferes with the ability of your constituents to evacuate in case of a wildfire?
I have sat in many of the same meetings as you in which AFD has identified the wildfire risk and evacuation issues related to the Milestone development. You cannot in good faith claim ignorance or that somehow the River Place community’s concern regarding evacuation is overblown or without merit. To be very clear, God forbid, if any River Place resident’s life is lost because of the inability to evacuate timely because of the added traffic congestion caused by the Milestone development, the responsibility is yours. Other council members have looked to you, Mr. Flannigan, for guidance in this matter and the only guidance you have provided is to support the developer as opposed to advocating for your constituents’ safety.
The Milestone zoning matter is not expected to be finalized by Austin City Council until, at the earliest, Thursday, October 3rd. As such, there remains time for you, Mr. Flannigan, to demonstrate leadership and your and City Council’s commitment to the safety of your constituents and zero wildland related fatalities by, at a minimum, conditioning the Milestone development on securing an alternate full use public access road that doesn’t rely on River Place Blvd. It is my sincere hope that you will take your responsibility for the safety of River Place and its residents with the utmost seriousness.
Firewise Program Director, River Place