The Austin Chronicle

Zilker Park: Paved Paradise, or Vice Versa

When is a parking lot not a parking lot? When it’s next to the beloved park.

By Chase Hoffberger, June 1, 2018, News

On Wednesday, June 6, the Environmental Com­mis­sion plans to take up the Stratford Drive Redevel­op­ment Project, a joint endeavor of the Austin Parks Foundation, C3 Presents, and the city's Parks and Rec­reation Department that's drawing an anticipated line of opposition. The initiative concerns the largely undefined patch of grass and stone along Stratford Drive, northwest of Zilker Park, between the volleyball courts and MoPac overpass, which these days is typically used for overflow parking and event staging during big events like the Trail of Lights or ACL.

But the space was never designed for such a use; in fact, its patchwork surface covers over what's now a clay-capped landfill, and PARD, which has tried but failed to grow a solid amount of sod on the space, is increasingly concerned that its current utility as a parking lot will exacerbate erosion issues and also lead to water runoff problems, in addition to continuing damage of the clay cap. PARD has recommended that the city convert the space from patchwork to permanence, and replace what's now a makeshift parking lot with ... a more permanent parking lot. (Though not a permanent parking lot. Nobody involved in the plans has been eager to use the words "parking lot.") Specific­al­ly, the department has recommended the infusion of seven acres of crushed stone and "pervious 'Grass­tone'" to accommodate parking for 700 cars, as well as a few beautification techniques (pedestrian circulation improvements, a water detention pond).

To PARD, the idea seems like a win-win: Take a poorly planned space that's consistently used for parking (indeed, on Sunday morning there were at least 60 cars parked on the lot) and replace it with a similarly utilized surface that can actually handle the automotive abuse. In the process, PARD hopes the city can begin to divert overflow parking off the polo fields (on the south side of Barton Springs Road) and into the 700 new spots, clearing up that green space for recreational use. Permitting work began last November, and is ongoing today. The city expects to secure necessary permits from the Texas Com­mis­sion on Environ­mental Quality in June, with lot improvements to begin that month, and be ready for use in September for ACL. A second phase, to build the pond, would begin next January, to be completed that March.

But not everybody is so keen on the plan, and at last week's Parks and Recreation Board meeting, the opposition gathered in the form of the Zilker Neighborhood Assoc­­ia­tion, Barton Hills Neighborhood Assoc­i­a­tion, Bill Bunch on behalf of Save Our Springs, and a few PARB members, who harbor concerns that 1) this is all happening too fast, and without their notice, and 2) PARB is too often talking about converting green space into parking areas. Bunch was particularly vocal in his opposition, calling the redevelopment a "sneak attack" and "hostile takeover" by a private corporation (C3, whose ACL Festival likely puts the greatest strain on that space).

PARD Acting Director Kimberly McNeeley was adamant during the PARB meeting that PARD does not need Council's approval (or, necessarily, public input) to move forward, and noted that PARB can "delay action" all they want; if the Environmental Commission "gives a nod that they're comfortable with it, we will likely move forward with the project," putting that commission into somewhat of a gatekeeper position next Wednesday. (Strat­ford is also due before the Planning Com­mission on June 12.)

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