Onion Creek residents divided on recommended voluntary buyout program

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Onion Creek residents had a chance to give feedback on the watershed protection department’s recommendation of voluntary buyouts for 128 flood-prone homes in their neighborhoods at a community meeting Tuesday evening.

In May, the city gave a presentation to residents on six flood-mitigation options that would protect homes and structures in the Pinehurst and Wild Dunes neighborhoods.

The options included a range of choices including channel clearing, building upstream regional detention ponds and a voluntary home buyout program.

In late October, the department released the final results of their three-year Onion Creek floodplain study.

Based on the results of the analysis and the project scoring criteria, engineering firm Halff Associates, the group that performed the study, recommended voluntary buyouts as the preferred flood mitigation alternative because it is the quickest and least expensive option, the department said in a memo to Mayor Steve Adler and Austin City Council.

Assuming 100 percent participation of property owners, the department estimated the preliminary cost estimate for buyouts by the city would be about $77.5 million.

The Onion Creek Homeowners Association released a statement in October stating their opposition to buyouts. The group maintains buyouts are not preventative and every effort possible should be made to mitigate flooding in Onion Creek as it can create irreparable damage to the neighborhoods and also has major negative impacts on the city, such as lost property taxes.

Residents seemed divided on the proper way to proceed, asking a number of questions at Tuesday’s meeting. Some seemed to be in favor of the buyouts, while others expressed desires for a more long-term solution. Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Ann Kitchen, whose district represents the area, were in attendance to speak with residents about their concerns and get an understanding of what the community really wanted. Here are some of the most common questions of the night:

  • What should residents expect as a market value or resale value of their homes for those who remain in the area?
    Alex Gale, assistant director for the Office of Real Estate Services for the city of Austin, said while the city has no way of providing an exact value, a previous voluntary buyout study done in the Williamson Creek floodplain found that buyouts had little effect on the area’s real estate market.
  • For those residents who accept the buyout, will they have time to figure out a new living situation before closing on their property?
    Gale said the city has asked residents to respond to the offer within 30 days and from there the city will work with the homeowners to ensure a smooth transition.
  • The city is proposing to complete the buyouts in phases. For those homes in the latter phases, will properties appraisals be adjusted?
    Pam Kearfott, supervising engineer in the watershed engineering division of the watershed protection department, said yes. The city will continue to adjust the cost estimates and budget accordingly based on the rise in construction costs and property values.
  • If not all homes are purchased by the city, could that additional funding be used for long-term flood mitigation to help those who have decided to stay?
    Kearfott said it is not likely because the city has studied other mitigation options and found they were not feasible.

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Luz Moreno-Lozano

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Southwest Austin and Travis County reporter. Luz began working with Community Impact Newspaper in April 2017 after serving as the news editor for Cornerstone Publications in Castroville for three years. She graduated from Texas A&M University in 2013.

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