Capitol View Corridors: Commissions, boards take opposite sides
Two city boards and commissions have taken opposing stands on Capitol View Corridor preservation, with dual representative Jeb Boyt, who chairs the Downtown Commission and also serves on the Parks and Recreation Board, in the controversial middle.
In June, the Downtown Commission voted to forward to City Council a final subcommittee report, titled "Downtown Development and Capitol View Corridors." View Corridors limit building heights between the vantage point and the state Capitol and thus impact high-rise development Downtown. Serving on the subcommittee were attorney Boyt, developers Robert Knight and Perry Lorenz, Downtown attorney Chris Riley, and Downtown architect Stan Haas. In response to concerns raised by the Heritage Society of Austin (whose directors, Julian Read and Joe Pinnelli, have flatly opposed any alterations to CVCs), the commissioners took pains to disclose their personal property interests within View Corridors in the final report, following guidelines from the city ethics officer. Nevertheless, some critics -- including Parks Board Chair Linda Guerrero -- have questioned whether the commissioners' perspective is inherently pro-development.
Guerrero therefore took the step of forwarding a formal resolution supporting the existing Capitol View Corridors, at the commission's last meeting. The unanimously passed Parks Board resolution (with Boyt abstaining, at the suggestion of board member Hector Ortiz) "opposes any and all recommended changes to Capitol view corridors that eliminate or degrade views currently benefiting the City's public parks." The Downtown Commission report recommends "improvements, re-evaluation, modification, or further study" for 11 of the 30 View Corridors. The only one that would substantially affect a park view is CVC 3 (Wooldridge Square Park). While changes to CVC 10 (in Longhorn Shores Park in East Austin) had previously been discussed, the final report notes that "Landscaping ... now blocks the view. The Parks and Recreation Department should maintain the vegetation in order to preserve the view." The Parks Board resolution notes that since the 1980s, the Capitol View Corridors have protected views "from Waterloo Park, Wooldridge Square Park, Town Lake Park (from the Barton Creek Pedestrian Bridge, Longhorn Shores, and Pleasant Valley at Lakeshore) and the Zilker Park Clubhouse."
Boyt said he was "dumbfounded" that his fellow Parks Board members refused to even vote in support of an inclusive public process to consider whether CVC 3 modifications might benefit, rather than harm, Wooldridge Park -- which is in need of revitalization. (For more, see "Wooldridge Square Park: The Study," Aug. 3.) Boyt, an appointee of Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, is a holdover Parks commissioner awaiting reappointment. He also was recently named the Parks Board's representative to the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee -- a surprise to Guerrero, who said her board was never consulted on its supposed "recommendation" by spearheading Council Member Sheryl Cole or Dunkerley. Boyt has failed to strongly champion official Parks Board positions at some recent Downtown Commission meetings.
Under "Negative Effects," the Downtown Commission's CVC report states: "CVC 3 -- Wooldridge Park. We recommend that the City work with the County and other stakeholders toward a plan for modifying or deleting this corridor to allow redevelopment of the underutilized lots on Blocks 108 & 126, between Guadalupe & Lavaca and 9th & 11th streets. This corridor, defined by viewpoints about four blocks from the Capitol, is not oriented toward the park, and it inhibits the redevelopment on Blocks 108 & 126 immediately east and northeast of the park, which are currently dominated by surface parking and drive-through uses. Travis County is evaluating one of these blocks as a potential site for a new courthouse."
"I don't think the other Parks Board members get it, about how much those surface parking lots impact the park," Boyt said. Downtown Commissioner Chris Riley (representing the Planning Commission) has advocated for mixed-use redevelopment possibly topped by high-rise residential on the east side of Wooldridge Square; a strong body of writing and research (à la Jane Jacobs) indicates that parks are far more lively and vital when surrounded by shops, cafes, and homes to populate them. Riley, who works for a law firm on Wooldridge Square and organizes its Saturday morning giant chess game, also is a voting representative of the Heritage Society of Austin.
Boyt said the Downtown commissioners plan to present their report at council's Oct. 11 meeting. Meanwhile, they are meeting individually with council members and the mayor. They also hope to meet with members of Austin's state legislative delegation before the formal presentation to council; most CVCs are protected by state law, with any changes requiring action by the Lege. Boyt characterized the legislative meetings as informational -- to "set the record straight" about the commission's own recommendations. However, Council Member Lee Leffingwell said he has asked Boyt and the other commissioners not to meet with legislators until council takes action on the report, out of concern commissioners might appear to officially represent city policy on the CVCs, which is as yet undetermined.
Meanwhile, Heritage Society President-elect John Donisi provided to the Chronicle a photograph of a handsome, unobstructed view of the Capitol dome that he took recently on the eighth floor of the LBJ Library, from President Lyndon Johnson's former office (accessible only by appointment). On the protected LBJ Library view, the Downtown Commission report states: "The East side of the view is still intact with a significant view of the dome of the Capitol. We recommend that the corridor be redefined to exclude the portion of the view [from the public plaza] obstructed by the expansion of the Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium." The Legislature gave the University of Texas special dispensation to obstruct the protected LBJ Library Capitol view in 1997, bowing to the greater god of Longhorn football.
To read "Downtown Development and Capitol View Corridors," see www.ci.austin.tx.us/downtown/downloads/CVC_Report_Final.pdf.