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Parks Board seeks compromise on Lady Bird Lake boardwalk

Thursday, January 29, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The Parks and Recreation Board, dissatisfied with Tuesday night’s presentation on the Lady Bird Lake boardwalk, offered a lukewarm motion of support in order to move the project forward and continue to work on compromises along the route.

A compromise on this one, given the factions at the night’s meeting, is going to be tricky. The consultant has a proposed route, which we described in our third story today. At least two condominium projects consider the project to be intrusive – in the sense they expect the bridge to block their lake views.

The Austin Parks Foundation and Texas Bicycle Coalition support the project and urged continued negotiation on the route. And even Council candidate and bike enthusiast Chris Riley weighed in, noting the need to close another gap in the city’s transportation infrastructure to give people using alternative transportation modes.

“I want to support this proposal and move the concept along,” said Griffin Davis, who sits on the Town Lake Trail Foundation board. “Like I said last week, we all have a passionate concern about Lady Bird Lake, but that doesn’t mean that city staff can’t continue to have discussions and make decisions that make rational sense.”

For some, the opposition was personal, even selfish, as one homeowner admitted. Owners of two condominium projects along the route were opposed to anything that would obstruct their view of the lake and applauded any reason that supported their cause. Others, like trail user and kayaker Fred Schmidt, had a more global concern about the trail’s future and urged the board not to rush into a boardwalk until it was absolutely apparent that deals could not be negotiated with landowners.

Schmidt called the boardwalk an “elevated concrete human highway” and “a bad excuse and expedient solution that cuts corners and delivers a product that we will regret.” It took five years to plan the original Town Lake trail and another five years to build it. Why crater to the tremendous pressures of a Mayor or Council until the boardwalk is properly finished, properly land-bound and uses a green design.

“People talk about dollars, but the cost is the least paramount to us,” Schmidt said. “We want to make sure it comes down onto or adjacent to land. You don’t have to worry about money. I bet we could raise the money, even if it meant people like myself stand on the trail every day with a donation bucket.”

Condo owners in a property at 1818 Lakeshore Drive are opposed to optional uses of land past their property because AMLI was allowed to build an eight-foot trail to the back of the Lakeshore condominium property. Why should the AMLI project be allowed to have great views but no one else? Asked one speaker.

The answer, according to city staff, is that the city trail must be ADA compliant, and an eight-foot wide course would not accomplish that goal. In her comments, Susan Rankin of the Town Lake Trail Foundation urged lakeside residents to recognize that the wider trail was intended to serve a trail expected to grow in popularity.

Commissioner Danette Chimenti, however, looked like she was ready to vote down the plan, saying its “over the water” sections were in conflict with recommendations of the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay, which has yet to make it to Council. Chimenti also recommended incorporating the AMLI trail into the final plan but to pass on designating it as a part of the city trail system.

What difference would it make if the new section of trail – estimated to cost upwards of $12 million – was 1.1 miles or 1.2 miles, especially if the fraction of the mile could cost the city upwards of $1 million in construction costs to complete over the water?

Jeff Francell was inclined to move the project forward, with the understanding city staff would continue to work on the route. His motion failed.

Then Commissioner Jane Rivera suggested the Boardwalk plan be delayed until the waterfront overlay plan made it to the Council, but no firm date has been set for Council approval and the project is on the list for possible stimulus funding.

Sara Marler, with Chair Linda Guerrero’s help, made a compromise motion, suggesting the Parks Board supported the Board in concept – if not the specific route recommended by Parks staff – and would support moving it forward, with the understanding that the city work to put the trail on land wherever possible. The commission recommended final approval of the plan only after the proposed waterfront overlay changes were approved by Council.

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