The Austin Chronicle

Critics of ARA Deal Still Wary

By Lee Nichols, October 30, 2009, News

Is the proposed nursing home project on East 12th Street really dead? Some neighbors aren't convinced.

The project was to be a skilled-nursing facility built by the Dallas-Fort Worth-based Victoria Gar­dens company in the 1100 block of East 12th, with ground-level retail, and the company had sought a partnership with the Austin Revitalization Authority in building it (see "What Part of 'No' Don't You Understand?," Aug. 28). However, after strong local push back – neighborhood association representatives objected that a nursing home was not what they had in mind to bring vibrancy back to the downtrodden street – Victoria Gardens notified the ARA that it was backing out.

Nonetheless, some board members of the ARA – the quasi-public company charged by the city of Austin with redeveloping and reinvigorating the East 11th and East 12th corridors – felt it necessary to pass a resolution that originally declared that the ARA "supports the concept of Victoria Gardens' facility locating on a suitable site in the 78702 zip code as it will bring much needed services and jobs; and ... will continue to assist Victoria Gardens as it is able in developing the project at an appropriate site in the community."

That raised eyebrows, and the resolution was eventually revised to take out the specific support for Victoria Gardens: "[T]he Board of Directors supports the concept of a skilled-nursing facility locating on a suitable site in the 78702 zip code provided that it will bring much-needed quality services and jobs." The new wording was passed unanimously at the Oct. 20 board meeting, but not without extensive discussion.

Before the final wording was approved, board member Rob Seidenberg – representing the Swede Hill Neighborhood Associ­a­tion – wondered why the resolution was necessary and whether it was a good idea. "We don't know these people," Seidenberg said. "And I don't know why we are so quick to dive into bed with them or to even give them a letter of blind support. ... It has to get them something. I don't mean to be supercynical, but I have to be, and we have to be. Or supervigilant. If we do something like this, let's not fool ourselves; it will be bandied about as a letter of support from the ARA supporting Victoria Gardens. That's why they want it. They will wave this thing in everybody's face across town. ... I say no."

Board Chair Charles Urdy said he didn't necessarily have to endorse Victoria Gardens, but he still pushed hard for language supporting nursing care in the area, saying that having gotten on board with the Victoria Gardens plan earlier this summer, it now appeared strange to back away from the concept completely.

Seidenberg, talking later with the Chronicle, said he still thought the resolution was pointless, but as worded, ultimately harmless.

Meeting observer Tracy Witte, president of Swede Hill Neighborhood Association and the vice president of the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods, wasn't so sure. "Based on statements that were made at the meeting, such as, 'ARA is through with Victoria Gardens' – I'm not sure how in the world they could think anyone believes that, when they put forth the resolution that had at least two statements of explicit support for Victoria Gardens," Witte said. "I assume that if they can find some way to work with Victoria Gardens, ARA will do it."

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