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City Council to consider putting golf and hotel resort on May 6 ballot

Monday, February 28, 2000 by

Meanwhile developers to seek more community input

Developers who hope to build a golf course and resort hotel on park land at Lake Walter Long say they will ask the City Council to consider putting the question on the May ballot during the March 9 council meeting. Previously, Larry Beard, Mark Levy and Pierre Gagne had said they expected the item to appear on this Thursday's agenda. ( In Fact Daily, Feb. 16 and Feb. 23)

Jay Hailey of Locke Liddell & Sapp, attorney for the developers, told In Fact Daily, "The indication we have is there is strong interest and support (among council members) for presenting (the plan) to voters. But I'm not sure the council is ready to vote on it." Hailey declined to say which members of the council had indicated they favor the golf resort deal. Voters must authorize release of park land once it has been dedicated to that purpose. Developers are requesting a 99-year lease for the hotel.

Council Member Beverly Griffith last week sent a request to the city manager's office for an all-funds analysis of the proposed project. The developers have projected payments to the city of $92 million during the first 20 years of the lease for the Prairie Grass Golf Club and Resort. Griffith told In Fact Daily, "Investment in that area has a great deal of appeal. We need to look at the community costs as well as the dollar costs." Griffith and members of the Parks and Recreation Board have said they are concerned about the precedent that allowing a hotel on dedicated park land would create.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said he too is concerned about setting such a precedent, "although the fact that it's not being used as parkland might argue for it." Slusher said he and other council members have been busy trying to understand all the ramifications of the deal proposed by Gary Bradley. So the question of the golf course at Lake Walter Long, " really hasn't grabbed our attention yet."

Griffith said, "We could have a hotel and convention center off the park land and have the golf course on park land. That would be completely appropriate," she said. "Then there wouldn't have to be a ballot item or a campaign and no precedent would be set for putting a hotel on park land." Developers have said the hotel must be on park land to be next to the lake. Without the lake as a draw, Hailey said, the hotel would not be successful.

John Gilvar, Griffith's aide, said the analysis would be similar to those done for Computer Sciences Corp., among others, and would have a 30-year timeline. Such an analysis would presumably answer questions about the cost of extending water and wastewater lines to the development, roadway costs and requirements, and the cost of relocating high voltage power lines that cross the park.

Mary Arnold, an environmentalist and member of the Golf Advisory Board, said, "From the golfers' standpoint, we don't want a delay. We've been waiting since last summer to get an offer from (Beard, Levy and Gagne). If it doesn't go on the May ballot, it may not go" at all. Arnold said golfers and staff of the Parks and Recreation Department probably would ask the city to build the course without a developer's money if the proposition is not put on the May ballot or is not approved by voters. "But the price of rounds would be higher than any of the other courses," if the city had to pay for the course itself, she said. Fees vary from course to course based on operational expenses.

Hailey said such an analysis is appropriate. He said his clients also need more time to talk to parks and neighborhood groups. Hailey said those groups include Friends of the Parks and the Austin Parks Foundation. The foundation promotes greater community awareness of and investment in Austin parks, with an emphasis on underserved areas, such as East Austin, according to Jonathan Neumann of the organization. Neumann said the foundation took the lead in master planning for the Colorado River Park.

Friends of the Parks had expressed concern about the speed with which the luxury resort seemed to be moving to the council agenda. In response to a request from Griffith, a team representing the developers made presentations on the project to both the Land and Facilities Committee of the Parks and Recreation Board and the full board. The board forwarded the project to council without a recommendation (In Fact Daily, Feb. 23).

Hailey said Council Member Willie Lewis would set up a meeting between the developers' representatives and interested neighbors. Because the project is in a rural area, however, there are no neighborhood groups in the usual sense, he said.

Beard, the only Austinite among the developers, said he and his partner, Levy, own Heritage Crossing, a 1600-acre development across FM 973 from the park. Other developments in the area include Wildhorse Ranch and Winding Trails. Beard and other developers are hoping that a resort like the one proposed would help jump start more upscale development in the area. Beard told In Fact Daily the minimum lot size for Heritage Crossing is 1.5 acres. He said, "I get about two calls a week for mobile home sites. If a lot of demand is created" by the resort, Beard said, then he and other developers can afford to put more money into amenities. Beard said he does not want to put mobile homes into Heritage Crossing.

Beard said the city has proposed a hike and bike trail along Gilleland Creek, which cuts through Heritage Crossing. Beard said if the resort is built, he and other landowners "could potentially put together 11 miles of hike and bike trails adjacent to Lake Walter Long." Ideally, Beard said, the development would contain, "a full range of mixed prices–something for everyone–$100,000 to $400,000. Look at Circle C ( Ranch). That's the concept we desire to create."

Beard said all the developers in the area are waiting to see what will happen with the proposed resort. He said John Lloyd and Pete Dwyer, who are developing the 1850-acre Wildhorse Ranch, "are in the process of designing roads and trails. Once that's in place you don't change those," he said. Beard said he and Levy want to design roads also, "(but) if this (resort hotel) is on the ballot, we can afford to wait 60 days…You're talking about changing the whole nature of the east side," he concluded.

Police association president calling time out on Focus Group's report

Detective Sheffield says police interests not reflected in report

Today was supposed to be a day of wrapping up details and okaying the content that will go in the final report of the Police Oversight Focus Group. Ain't gonna happen. Not if Detective Mike Sheffield gets his way. As president of the Austin Police Association (APA), Sheffield swings a big stick in the process of establishing civilian oversight of the Austin Police Department (APD). The problem, he told In Fact Daily on Saturday, is the issues brought to the table by the three police officers on the Focus Group didn't make it into the first draft of the final report, and there's not enough time to fix it and still get the report finished by March 15, he says.

"I feel like I'm getting the bum's rush," says Sheffield. "We've argued for 25 years (about civilian oversight of police). What's a couple of days or a month? That's what bargaining is all about."

Although the draft was penned by attorney Eric Galton of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, who's acting as volunteer facilitator of the Focus Group, Sheffield describes the draft as "not that neutral." "It didn't encompass interests from the officers' point of view," he says. For example, one concern aired since Focus Group meetings began last June 30 was that APD officers on the street have too few supervisors on duty. Recommendations for fixing that problem are not in the report. "It's like everything that came from our side got forgotten," Sheffield says. "I'm disappointed."

Sheffield says the negotiations for the Meet and Confer Agreement between the City of Austin and the APA are not underway yet. The intent has been for civilian oversight of the APD to be made part of those negotiations. Sheffield says there's time to fix the Focus Group report. "I'm going to say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa,'" he says. "This is the hardest part, drafting the language. Are we going to speed through this?"

He concedes the Focus Group has nearly unanimously "agreed in theory" but adds, "that's nothing." "True bargaining is in writing the language. The rubber meets the road when it's put in writing," Sheffield says.

"I hope they don't think I'm stalling this thing," Sheffield says of the other Focus Group members. "I would not be here (in this process) if I didn't think we could support the outcome, but it also needs to reflect our interests. The alternative is nothing, and no one would be happy with that."

Get out and vote…Absentee voting for the March 14 primary begins today… SRCC election next week… René Barrera, president of South River City Citizens, announced that the neighborhood organization holds its annual covered dish meeting next Monday, March 6, starting at 7 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 205 Monroe. Besides electing the president, the group will get an update on Home Depot, South Congress improvements and neighborhood planning… Kitchen party… Ann Kitchen, candidate for State Representative Sherri Greenberg's District 48 seat in the Legislature, invites supporters to kick up their heels Tuesday night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Broken Spoke, 3201 S. Lamar Blvd. Chaparral will provide the dance music.

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