Enviro Groups Oppose Plans for Violet Crown Venue
20,000-seat venue would sit amidst Barton Creek preserve
Several prominent Central Texas environmental organizations have announced their unified opposition to plans for the ambitious Violet Crown Amphitheater, a proposed 20,000-seat venue billed as Austin's answer to Colorado's historic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The development, which is surrounded by the Nature Conservancy's Barton Creek Habitat Preserve and the creek itself, has plans for luxury apartments, a driving range, a distillery, and a nightclub, but Mike Clifford of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance says it's the amphitheatre itself – planned to have one of the largest bandshells in the U.S. – that's the main issue: "If they just wanted to do a regular development, it would be challenging to have an eco-friendly site ... but it could be done. But a 20,000-seat amphitheatre is such a problem-maker from so many different standpoints."
The problems foreseen by GEAA, TNC, and allies Save Our Springs Alliance, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Save Barton Creek Association include noise pollution, increased traffic on Texas 71 and Southwest Parkway, damaging runoff into Barton Creek, and harm to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and the vulnerable black-capped vireo, the two songbirds whose habitat is protected in the preserve. "Some of the best golden-cheeked warbler habitat in Travis County would be severely compromised with the traffic, light and noise that a development of this scale would create," states the Nature Conservancy's website. Clifford explains that amplified music could force songbirds to flee to a different part of the preserve, which would increase competition and lead to lower survival rates: "The whole purpose of the preserve is to give them a habitat, it's not to make them run to the other side of the preserve to escape this man-made monstrosity."
Another concern is the effect of construction runoff. Clifford points to the increasing prevalence of toxic algae in Austin waterways, which thrive on nutrients flowing into the creeks from developments upstream: "The fact that [algae] showed up in Sculpture Falls [on Barton Creek] tells us that we're over-developing." The problematic nutrients, he continues, "come from septic tanks, sewage, agricultural runoff, fertilizers, pets. As soon as you start sticking people into the wilderness, you have nutrient problems."
In response to these concerns, Craig Bryan, president of International Development Management, says, "Everything that I am doing on this project, I want to do at a higher level than what's expected." This includes eight water retention sites that the city of Austin can inspect annually, sediment filters, and restrictive covenants to prevent the use of pesticides or herbicides. Jim Wittliff of Land Answers, the project's code consultant, points out that some of the site was originally platted back in 1981 and could be grandfathered under less restrictive codes. "We voluntarily are restricting the entire site to current code, which is 20% impervious cover," as specified in the 1992 Save Our Springs Ordinance. Though not required by the state to study the project's traffic impact on Texas 71, the developers are conducting an analysis as requested by the Travis County Commissioners Court.
"We are gladly providing the things that are being asked of us," Bryan continues. "We want to ensure everyone understands we have thought about these problems, and we're addressing them before they come up." He also emphasizes the creation of an endowment "that focuses on preserving nature we don't even touch."
Clifford isn't convinced the mitigation tactics will be enough to protect Barton Creek. "We have very stringent requirements for building in the Barton Creek watershed ... and even with all that, we're having these toxic algae issues. At the end of the day, the water doesn't lie, and is the indicator of whether we are doing our job as environmental stewards. The water is telling us that we're failing." The city expects the project to be considered by Council next year.