City lifts Stop Work Order at San Gabriel Crossing apartments
(UPDATED: 11:30 a.m. Sept. 22, 2010 | Original Post: Sept. 20, 2010)
The City conditionally lifted a Stop Work Order at San Gabriel Crossing on Sept. 22. The Order was issued Sept. 13, stopping construction until the City's concerns were addressed by project developers and contractors. (Photos by Kate Ludlow)
A Stop Work Order posted Sept. 13 by the City of Liberty Hill at the construction site of an apartment complex was "conditionally" lifted at 8:30 a.m. today, according to Mayor Michele "Mike" Murphy.
"Most of the issues included in the Stop Work Order were corrected," Mayor Murphy told Radio Free Liberty Hill. She said Building Inspector Pete McKinney made the decision to lift the order.
She added that Contractor Ryan Nash of Nash Builders, Ltd., applied for a new building permit Sept. 17 and it was approved today.
Steger Bizzell, the City's engineering firm, said there are several issues still unresolved, but "there is no reason they can't go back to work while those issues are resolved."
(Original Post: Sept. 20, 2010)
Over the objections of Texas Housing Foundation Inc., Nash Builders Ltd. and an attorney representing both entities and threatening legal action, the Liberty Hill City Council on Sept. 17 took the advice of its own lawyer and would not call for a vote to lift the order at the site of the San Gabriel Crossing apartment complex.
The $9 million project, which could be open at 155 Hillcrest Lane by February 2011, will offer apartments for 76 families of low to moderate income.
At a special called meeting of the Council Sept. 17, Building Inspector Pete McKinney said he issued the order halting construction at the site because the City still had no approved set of site plans, and the project's building permit expired in December 2009. His actions were backed by the City's attorney.
"This is a decision you (the Council) have to make, but Pete has taken the correct position," said City Attorney Art Rodriguez. "There is no building permit for that property and there are no approved site plans. There is nothing for them to construct."
On July 28, the Council gave developers a $42,000 reprieve on permitting fees and Nash Builders promised the Council that the City would receive revised plans right away. But the City didn't actually receive the plans until August 27. McKinney said he hand-delivered them to the Steger Bizzell engineering firm on August 30, and a representative of the firm issued a memo the same day listing a number of deficiencies that needed to be "included or addressed with the next (plan) submittal." Among the deficiencies were a drainage map to show existing and developed drainage areas, platted utility easements that also show proposed sewer contours, and any improvements to Hillcrest Lane. (Read the Story
"It's been two and a half weeks, and there's been no response to Steger Bizzell's concerns," McKinney told the Council.
Rodriguez said he would not recommend the Council lift the Order without having a plan approved.
Mayor Michele "Mike" Murphy admonished Texas Housing Foundation CEO Mark Mayfield for not following through with a promise made to her a few weeks ago to have the plans in Liberty Hill within 48 hours.
"I felt personally let down when you (Mayfield) didn't keep your word," she said. He responded that project engineers stay busy and don't have time to redraw plans every time a decision is made on the site to move something slightly to protect a tree.
Contractors brought new plans to the Council meeting Friday and gave them to Rodriguez about five minutes before the meeting was called to order. McKinney said he would deliver them to Steger Bizzell upon adjournment of the meeting.
City officials on Monday confirmed to Radio Free Liberty Hill that those plans had been delivered, but the City had not received a report from engineers regarding whether the new plans addressed their concerns of August 30. Thus, the Stop Work Order remained in tact as of 2:45 p.m. Sept. 20.
"It bothers me that this has dragged on and on," Council member Jack Harkrider said during Friday's special Council meeting. "We tried to work with you (the contractors) by forgiving the fees, but still there has been no permit re-application, which was a provision of our approval. There's been no submission of changes (to the site plan). As best I can see, this (project) is just sort of flying on its own."
"We are accustomed to playing by the rules," said Nash. "We are presently working in many municipalities. We've never been ordered to stop simply because of revisions to a site plan."
Nash said the Stop Work Order is costing the companies thousands of dollars each day, and local construction workers are not being paid.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Canady suggested the developers complete the necessary paperwork to re-apply for the building permit. City Secretary Tammy Kirk told Radio Free Liberty Hill Friday afternoon that the group came to City Hall following the Council meeting to re-apply for the permit.
The contractors have said repeatedly that they disagree with the City's Unified Development Code, which defines when the start of construction occurs. The Code states that construction begins when permanent foundations are put in place. Nash argued that clearing a site is construction, and he says workers were doing that prior to the permit's expiration date in December 2009.
"Site clearing is not the beginning of construction," said Rodriguez. "You can debate that as long as you want." The UDC is the legal standard adopted by the Council, he said.
Attorney Dominic Audino of Austin told Radio Free Liberty Hill after the meeting adjourned Friday that he was not sure what action his clients would advise him to take, but he came to the meeting prepared to file a lawsuit against the City.
"I think their (the City's) position is questionable," he said. "They sat and watched us build for months without taking any action at all.
"If you trap us into starting over, that forces us to file a lawsuit," he told the Council.
"We never expected this," added Nash. "The position of your building officer to keep it stirred up is costing us lots of money."
"There has to be a remedy for that," added Mayfield.
In other business Friday, the Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that defines a Living Unit Equivalent (LUE) for purposes of wastewater services. The ordinance amended the City's Municipal Utility Ordinance adopted in 2006, which established rates and tap fees. Officials said the amendment was necessary in that the existing ordinance did not address the LUEs of an apartment complex.
Instead, the ordinance authorized billing for wastewater service based on the size of the water meter. At the San Gabriel Crossing apartment complex, the amended ordinance will mean more revenue for the City.