By LESLEE BASSMAN
Special to the Four Points News
In a February 27 filing with the city of Austin, Milky Way Holdings GP revised its previous site plan application for Milky Way at River Place, a 42-acre residential project located off Milky Way Drive in River Place.
Since the application is still in the intake process, no additional information is available, city of Austin spokesperson Robbie Searcy stated. Four Points News filed a public records request February 28 with the city seeking the revised document. MileStone Community Builders, the developer, declined to comment.
“Following completion of the intake process, city of Austin staff will review the revised application based on the updated information,” Searcy stated in an email on Monday.
Number of homes at issue
The former Milky Way site plan was approved by the city of Austin for 30 units. However, a document filed by Milky Way Holdings February 14 in Travis County – the Declaration of Condominium Regime for Milky Way at River Place Condominiums – states it has the right to build up to and including 68 homes in the project. This document, along with a Management Certificate for the project filed the following day, establishes how the development will be governed.
The October 2019 city ordinance that zoned the property to allow for townhomes and condominiums required the development to have two accessways if more than 30 homes are constructed. However, that provision can be modified to allow for additional homes if (1) an emergency route is created in addition to the primary accessway and (2) no more than 1,200 trips per day are generated on Milky Way Drive. Twenty-five homes exist on Milky Way Drive already.
A restrictive covenant drafted at the same time required Milky Way Holdings to abide by a March 2019 neighborhood traffic analysis.
Austin Christian Fellowship — a church adjoining the tract — granted an easement December 23, 2020, that allowed for a second accessway in an emergency. The Autism Trust, which also holds land adjacent to the project, provided a similar emergency access easement at the same time.
An initial neighborhood traffic analysis showed the trip count limited construction to 45 homes. However, a second analysis allowed for at least 68 homes. This analysis was submitted in March of 2020 at the start of the COVID pandemic when fewer people traveled from their homes. Although the second analysis was made due to a clerical error regarding a date on the first analysis, the result showed a substantial change to the number of units recommended for the project.
Local controversy spans years
The Milky Way project has long been controversial for the western Travis County community, with residents voicing concerns over its impact on the area’s safety and traffic, a region also plagued by a continued threat of wildfires.
For Brian Showers, who lives about 200 feet from the new development, the issue is “first and foremost, safety.”
“What they are doing is unsafe but they have found a workaround, to check the boxes, to build an unsafe development,” Showers said of Milky Way Holdings’ River Place development. “My second disappointment is that the developer has been able to wear down the city’s planning and legal process to get their way in spite of both the letter and spirit of the zoning passed by city council.”
Where are we now?
Although Milky Way Holdings has an emergency accessway to River Place Boulevard and a traffic analysis that allows for 68 homes, the fight isn’t over yet. The only document in effect – until the site revision filed February 27 – supports 30 units.
Sources said the emergency accessway easement isn’t valid because the church lacked the authority to grant such an easement without the consent of the River Place Homeowners Association. A June 5, 2000, Restrictive Covenant executed by First River Place Reserve, Ltd., the initial developer of River Place, and Realtex Ventures, Inc., requires the advance written consent of the Association before any vehicular access from the property to River Place Boulevard can be established. Although ACF was previously granted permission by the homeowners association to build its road as an accessway to the church, no similar approval has been given to Milky Way Holdings, the new adjacent landowner. The permission granted to ACF for the driveway was limited to access by only the church and the adjoining Leander ISD-owned tract that is now River Place Elementary School.
Construction on Milky Way continues as both ACF and the Trust filed construction easements to Milky Way Holdings on their properties. Documents filed with Travis County on March 8, 2021, also show the Trust received $1,000,000 from Milky Way Holdings to purchase additional property for its exclusive use as a licensed care facility. The filing shows an option was given to ACF to buy back the property for a nominal fee should the property change ownership or consent to its new proposed owners.