City Deflates Tube Business After Blowup

Code Compliance shuts down Eastside Tubes' walkway

Dan Walker and his sidelined tubes
Dan Walker and his sidelined tubes (Photo by John Anderson)

Amid debate on whether river tubing belongs on the Eastside, last week the city quietly let the air out of Dan Walker's East Side Tubes.

The business, an offshoot of Walker's MOC Kayaks, has already cleared up some of its issues – like parking in a vacant lot across the street without a site plan. But last Friday, Code Compliance visited the property and determined the walkway down to the Colorado River had dangerous conditions, and shut it down – effectively closing the business along with it.

Robert Alvarado, who is with the city's Code Compliance department, explained that the business never had a proper certificate of occupancy. Essentially, they didn't change their business use so that the tubing business could operate from that location. In the course of trying to get that certificate, the walkway down to the water came under scrutiny. Code Compliance says Walker was told that he needed to include the walkway in his site plan about a month ago, and maintains that it needs to be reviewed by the city. Walk­er says the walkway is not on his land, and that the only improvement he made to the pre-existing path was the addition of a rope.

Alvarado admits that the ownership of the land with the path on it is "to be determined." Both Walker and the city are currently researching who owns the land. "Either way, whoever built the stairs, whatever property it's on, public safety is our main concern and the conditions for this and how it was constructed doesn't meet a standard," says Alvarado. "For him to go through the process and get it approved for minimum standards is really, truly, what needs to happen."

At this point, Walker isn't quite sure what really, truly needs to happen. He says that bringing the stairs up to code would be way more expensive than he could handle. He's steeling himself for a battle that he fears could last years. Right now, his strategy is to try and get everyone together to figure out exactly what needs to be done – and to get it in writing. "It's just politics on the inside. It's not because we're not coming up to code with this, or coming up to code with that. I think they are going to be trying to beat around the bush until we fail. I really do," says Walker. "Somebody on the inside has a personal agenda."

Though the city Parks and Recreation Department (technically) had nothing to do with closing the trail, a separate code amendment process that would address tubing on that section of the river continues.

Longtime Eastside activist and neighbor Daniel Llanes, who opposes the tubing business, says it's unfortunate that the city is so often "complaint-driven," with illegal businesses operating until neighborhood agitation forces the city to uphold the law. He says his primary concern is the impact of the crowds on the river, parks, preserves, and the River Bluff neighborhood itself. He says that since about 2000, they have been working on creating a wildlife corridor in that eco-sensitive area.

"It's not about trying to keep people out of there. It's about keeping it manageable so that the very reason people come here isn't destroyed," says Llanes, who sees the tubing business as an attempt to commercialize that part of the river, and is determined not to let it become as commercialized as Lady Bird Lake west of I-35.

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News, Eastside Tubes, MOC Kayaks, Code Compliance, Robert Alvarado, Austin Parks and Recreation, Daniel Llanes, River Bluff neighborhood, Dan Walker

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