Discord Grows Over Springdale Farm
Urban farms unrest continues as items hit the dais
Tensions remained high at last Thursday's City Council meeting, with drama both inside and outside Council chambers. A full house waited until after midnight for items 145-147 – zoning measures set to determine the future of Springdale Farm. Heated public testimony saw neighbors speak out for and against the proposed changes. Opponents of the changes cited noise from events, lack of parking, and a strong emphasis on the consumption of alcohol at weddings and fundraisers, and at Eden East, the farm-to-table mobile food trailer located on the property. They maintained they did not want to shut down the farm, but are opposed to an "event center." Neighbors in support of the Springdale items disputed the noise and traffic claims, and touted the farm as a community resource and greenspace.
Rosa Santis, who owns numerous properties in the area, began her testimony with a reminder that she pays nearly $1 million in taxes and has never asked for support from any government to be successful. (However, Santis did receive a loan of almost $200,000 through the city of Austin's Family Business Loan Program last year to refinance a building on East Sixth.) "Do they need a bailout of their economic problems?" asked Santis.
Commentary continued with District 3 run-off candidate and co-founder of PODER, Susana Almanza, who criticized the Chronicle's coverage of the issue. "The Austin Chronicle is fueling the fire of hatred, making it seem that poor and working-class poor people of color are trying to shut down the poor farmers that own five acres of land who should be allowed to have events every weekend, with no regards to their neighbors and/or the communities."
Almanza's run-off opponent, her brother Sabino "Pio" Renteria, sang a different tune at the Springdale rally outside the City Hall. "The items before Council are not about one farm or one business, they are about our community as a whole," he said. "This will be an ongoing struggle, I want to assure you that I will be there," he added. "We need to decide whether we want to have positive and inclusive leadership or continue with the same old politics."
Testimony from Almanza and Santis reflected a continuation of an earlier confrontation (one of many) outside Council Chambers in which Almanza and Santis approached Springdale Farm employees asking if the farm sold alcohol, how much the employees were paid, and why the employees would continue to support the farm. Almanza then reminded Springdale's Glenn Foore, who had approached the gathering crowd, that she sat on the board that initially approved the loan allowing them to operate their landscaping business. The spectacle continued with a brief dust-up between Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Chair Daniel Llanes and political consultant Mykle Tomlinson over an alleged elbow thrown by Tomlinson but unseen by security, with Llanes grabbing Tomlinson and yelling, "We aren't going to do this here." Then, there was the distribution of Angelica Noyola's mug shot, prompting Noyola to alert authorities outside of City Hall.
For Council's part, they voted 6-0 on first reading against amending the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) from single family to mixed use, after reassurance from the Planning and Development Review Department's Jerry Rusthoven that a FLUM amendment would not be necessary for the farm to apply for a Conditional Use Permit. Adamantly against amending the FLUM in this case, the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Contact Team (along with Almanza) last supported an amendment to the FLUM in 2013 for ThinkEast, the $35 million development slated for 1141 Shady and 5300 Jain Lane, which ultimately converted 24 acres from single family and mixed use to major planned development.
On the second item, Council voted 5-1 to allow outdoor entertainment as a conditional use, with council members Laura Morrison voting no and Bill Spelman off the dais. Morrison expressed disappointment in the lack of productive dialogue and strongly urged the two sides to negotiate by utilizing city staff and/or a mediator. "The conversations just aren't working yet," she said. Kathie Tovo mirrored Morrison's concerns, adding that parking and the consumption of alcohol near a school need to be addressed. Springdale Farm's Paula Foore said she is open to mediation and negotiating an agreement, though her preference would be to work directly with those who live near the farm. "Last year we met with the contact team for mediation, and it was completely unproductive. The real consideration needs to be working with our neighbors, especially those within 200 feet," said Foore after the Council meeting. Further, according to the city of Austin Planning and Development Review Department, the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Contact Team is out of compliance with City Code.
With a vote of 6-0 (and Spelman off the dais), Council moved to postpone item 147, which would address the termination of the restrictive covenant stating that if the farm ceased to run its landscaping business, its zoning would revert to light industrial and single family. The item will move to a final vote on Dec. 11, while the outdoor entertainment item will have a second and third reading.