The Austin Chronicle

Muny Isn't Part of UT's Grand Plans

By Jacob Cottingham, June 26, 2009, News

After nearly a year of meetings, listening sessions, and presentations, Cooper, Robert­son & Partners, the master planning firm hired by the University of Texas Board of Regents, last week submitted its two conceptual master plans to the austere university governing body. Most notably, neither plan includes the popular Lions Municipal Golf Course, or Muny – though both plans do include 15 acres for the West Austin Youth Association, or WAYA – and one of the options included moving the Bracken­ridge Field Lab, a research facility headed up by UT professor Larry Gilbert.

Where Muny now sits, CRP envisions a meandering central park built along the intermittently flowing Schulle Branch Creek. Paul Milana, a CRP partner who has frequently served as the company's public face, said in a press conference after the presentation that the lush waterscape envisioned in CRP drawings would be a series of ponds retaining runoff. In addition to the new park, plans include a revamped "boat town" marina and pedestrian-friendly clusters of development.

The two scenarios are far from certain and actually serve as yet another jumping-off point. It's unclear how much revenue the university could make under the two scenarios. "I would be very disappointed to see the field lab downsized when the recommendations from every faculty advisory committee and outside expert review group has been to expand the field lab at the existing site," said David Hillis, chairman of the UT Faculty Council. Saying that the lab will be forced to downsize its classes and programs, Hillis calls CRP's option No. 2 "simply the less ridiculous of two unacceptable plans."

Without Muny, planners see an opportunity to alleviate congestion that builds up along Lake Austin Boulevard, Exposition Boulevard, and Enfield Road. In one plan, Exposition would be extended to the shoreline area and serve as a main shopping street. In both, Enfield is extended out to Red Bud Trail, with Lake Austin Boulevard widened into a "proper" boulevard. Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies told the regents that traffic could be reduced by more than 40% under the proposed plan.

During the same press conference, regents promised a further inquiry into the CRP proposals and said faculty members unhappy with the field lab propositions will be given extraordinary weight. Muny advocates are also taking a long-term view, especially in light of the fact that the lease with the city of Austin doesn't expire until 2019. Mary Arnold, a key figure in the Save Muny campaign and a veteran of prior battles to save the golf course, was upbeat. "We're very glad to hear the chair of the Board of Regents say the leases will continue to 2019," she said, but she questioned the affordability of the housing options in the plan and offered a reminder of a legal process requiring public hearings "if a public body is going to take a piece of land that has been used as open-space recreation."

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