Neighbor concerns include traffic, parking, potential odors
By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News
Although Four Points residents say the local high school needs additional space for its agricultural programs, some cite concerns over traffic, parking and the potential for noxious odors for the Vandegrift High School agriculture barn slated to be constructed on Grandview Hills Elementary School property.
For Andrea Wardrop, who has lived in the Grandview Hills neighborhood for the past decade, the project’s location is an issue.
“The parking lot up here is not very big so I’m not sure where students are going to park when they come over here,” Wardrop said of the project site that’s at the front of the school property.
She said many trees were removed from the tract to make way for the project and is concerned about how the animals’ manure waste will be disposed of, fearing odors will emanate through the neighborhood.
“And then, what happens to these animals at night” Wardrop questioned. “We have a lot of wildlife around here. It just seems a little nuts where they put it.”
She said she felt the barn could have been situated on a better site on the school property—one that wasn’t as visible from the street or affecting the school’s front entranceway.
The $6.9 million cost for both the VHS barn as well as one for Glenn High School was approved by voters in 2017 pursuant to a $454.4 million Leander Independent School District bond package that adds Career and Technical Education, or CTE, courses and programs as well as updates facilities for welding, plumbing and electrical training.
Construction on the agriculture barn is planned to begin this month, with a scheduled completion date in August, according to Matt Mitchell, LISD communications coordinator.
“Leander ISD ag barn facilities provide both the opportunity, and the support necessary for student participation in the district’s award winning agriculture programs, with little to no negative impact to surrounding neighborhoods,” Mitchell said.
Currently, the VHS barn facility is shared with the Cedar Park Future Farmers of America and is located next to Cedar Park Middle School. The new structure will serve VHS and house livestock including pigs, sheep, goats and occasionally a steer or two, Mitchell said.
According to district officials, LISD lacks sufficient agriculture barns to serve its students who raise animals for FFA and other programs. Both the VHS and GHS barns are aimed at alleviating some of the overcrowding at the Cedar Park and Rouse High School barns.
Wardrop said the trees taken from the project site made the tract — what she considers a gateway to the community — look sparse and the neighborhood more visible.
Longtime Grandview Hills resident Matt Duggan said new projects, including a shopping center under construction by Home Depot and a nearby residential development, have prompted even more tree clearing in the area. But, with the project being an educational facility on district-owned land, he said he and other residents have very little power to affect the project.
“We’re not against an ag barn,” Duggan said. “I think the idea is kind of cool out here in Grandview Hills. Our concern is that everybody coming into the neighborhood — depending on where the building goes and how big it is — (will) see the back of a building along the fence line.”
He said residents haven’t seen any renderings of the project or obtained information about the size of the facility.
Mitchell said Lander ISD and its design team worked carefully to select the precise position and orientation of the approximately 16,550-square-foot agriculture barn to ensure “a minimum number of trees were impacted.”.
City ordinances required LISD to mitigate for the trees removed, and LISD staff, its design consultants, and a city of Austin arborist identified existing, small trees throughout the Grandview Hills site, which the city deemed as desirable, he said. The identified trees were then surveyed, evaluated, marked and designated to be preserved “into perpetuity,” Mitchell said.
“Tree mitigation, in lieu of tree replacement, was determined to be the least cost, best value solution for Leander ISD taxpayers,” he said.
During the project, construction material deliveries will be the only construction-related traffic embarking on the project site, with such vehicles entering from RM 620 via Vista Parke Drive, Mitchell said. Parking for construction workers will be designated along Vista Parke in front of the project site, he said.
“Due to the relatively small scope of the project and small size of the facility, construction traffic is expected to be very minimal in and out of this work area,” Mitchell said.
After the project is finished, traffic for the new facility “is typically infrequent and generally occurs outside of peak traffic times associated with the elementary school,” he said.
Duggan said he feared the project may create a safety concern for neighborhood children walking to the elementary school, students who might now need to navigate around high school drivers traveling to the grounds to feed barn animals.
The agriculture barn driveway will connect to the Grandview Hills Elementary School’s private driveway that extends between Vista Parke and Wilson Parke Avenue, Mitchell said. The barn is to have two parking spaces and a paved, yard area that can accommodate 50 vehicles.
“We anticipate an increase in student participation once this facility opens since VHS will have a dedicated ag barn which will eliminate students having to travel to the Cedar Park (High School) ag barn located near Cedar Park (Middle School),” he said.
Potential odors, noise and other issues
Mitchell said the number of animals to be housed at the new facility “is dictated by the number of students who participate in the program” but can accommodate a maximum of 40 animals, depending on the type of animal.
Animals will be on site from mid-June through March, with pigs kept from mid-September through February; lambs and goats kept from July to February and steers kept from mid-June until late February or early March, he said. Although students are responsible for the animals’ daily care, Mitchell said their activity is regularly supervised by faculty.
All LISD agriculture barns maintain a standard practice, with manure from animal pens placed in commercial-sized containers before being disposed off-site “as needed,” he said. Since the volume of animals served at the agriculture barn is relatively low, the total volume of waste generated is also quite small, Mitchell said.
“There are rarely any foul odors due to manure collected from the ag barn because the waste is collected daily and it dries quickly,” he said. “It’s uncommon for odors resulting from ag barn operations to be readily perceptible because they generally dissipate quickly and completely – often within a few feet of the waste containers.”
Additionally, the facility won’t have a pasture area and the animals will be kept in pens, with students assigned to regularly walk them within the barn’s fenced area, he said.
But Duggan questioned why the project wasn’t slated for the back portion of the tract, “away from the main part of our neighborhood, away from where the kids go to school and ride by it everyday.”
Mitchell said the barn site, at the corner of Vista Parke and Wilson Parke, was chosen to be in proximity to utilities, to avoid critical environmental features on the property and to coordinate its overall logistics with current and future development on the property.
The district operates agriculture barns at each of its six high schools, with VHS being the only high school campus within LISD that lacks a permanent facility to date, he said. The five existing facilities are “all located in densely populated residential areas” and most are within 400 feet of residential developments, Mitchell said, adding the VHS ag barn site is just over 700 feet from the nearest residential lot.
Duggan said he thought the facility was closer than that, within 600 feet from the closest Grandview Hills home.
“I don’t know how strong that smell is going to get when it’s 100 (degrees) or 110 (degrees) out, especially for the neighbors who live right there,” he said.