The Austin Chronicle

Council: Work Done and Happy Holidays!

By Michael King, December 20, 2013, News

City Council won't gather together again officially until the New Year – Jan. 23 (work session Jan. 21) – but members descended the dais after midnight last Thursday (Dec. 12) with a few accomplishments (depending, of course, on your point of view).

After a land-use, political, and environmental struggle of several years, Council essentially ratified the purchase of 606.7 acres of Hays County land known as the Jeremiah Ventures tract (after the would-be developer), in a proposed $18 million deal brokered by the Nature Conservancy. Environ­ment­al groups and the city had opposed the development because of its scale and location atop the Edwards Aquifer, and because it would employ treated effluent irrigation. Said Save Our Springs Alliance Director Bill Bunch in supporting the purchase: "Buying this land for watershed protection is really the ideal outcome for this seven-, eight-year struggle that we've been in, over the proposed development of it, up to 1,200 or 1,400 houses and a wastewater irrigation plan."

The Parks and Recreation Department carried a couple of hotly contested items: 1) the installation of parking meters at the Butler Field ball parks on Toomey Road; 2) the proposed Auditorium Shores Improve­ment Project. The parking meter proposal is an attempt to balance the needs of park users, nearby businesses (Casa de Luz), and general Downtown parking, where meters are becoming much more common. Not everybody is enthusiastic, notably neighborhood groups, and folks simply accustomed to driving Downtown and finding free space ... in another era. But Council Member Chris Riley argued that business users or Downtown workers are now dominating the spaces and meters will discourage squatting. "What you will find is there is actually parking available for people who want to use the park," he said. In the end, only CM Kathie Tovo opposed the installation, and the vote was 6-1.

The more extended argument was about Aud­itorium Shores, where planned improvements include a more limited off-leash dog area – strongly opposed by some dog owners accustomed to untrammeled use of the whole park. The Austin Parks Founda­tion and Trail Foundation support the changes, which also include major work on the grounds themselves, suffering from years of hard use. (Amy Smith reported in detail on the dispute Dec. 6 in "Then There's This.") After roughly two hours of sometimes heated testimony, Council eventually voted unanimously to endorse the plan – although it would not be surprising if that doesn't settle the matter.

The other heavily watched item was "Project Connect," both a briefing and tentatively a Council endorsement of the "sub-corridors" recommended by the Central Corri­dor Advisory Group. The arguments were recounted in some detail in last week's cover story, "Urban Rail: Which Way to Connect?" The central debate, still simmering, is whether the "Highland" or the "Lamar/Guadalupe" sub-corridor should be part of the initial plan. After nearly three hours, Council endorsed the CCAG recommendation of East Riverside and Highland – leaving Lamar/Guadalupe for the next phase. The 2014 question will be if the various advocates can come together over whatever the final plan looks like, and presumably the ballot for November 2014.

Postponed for January fun: revisions proposed for "vested development rights" (i.e., grandfathering); and PARD's proposed Master Plan for Holly Shores/Fiesta Gar­dens/Festival Beach. Woof!

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