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East Austin activists call for more scrutiny of proposed disc golf course

Thursday, October 7, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The possible construction of a disc golf course next to Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park has brought accusations of willful gentrification and neglect on the part of city staff. That anger, represented by East Austin activist group PODER, stems in part from a belief that the city-owned tract of land would be better suited for affordable housing.


Drama surrounding the issue played out last night at a meeting held at the Ruiz Library, just north of the proposed golf site. There, PODER members and concerned citizens expressed their worries about the project. Joining them were proponents, many of whom live in the Montopolis area, who called for a disc golf course in central East Austin.


The city acquired the land in 2007 from a private owner for roughly $4 million. The funds for the land purchase came from a set-aside funded by money raised in a 2006 bond initiative. The space acquired amounts to about 26 acres, according to a memo from Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley. This is not the master-planned park—which is under construction—but property adjacent to it.


City staff insists that they have made no concrete decisions about where a new disc golf course might go. Indeed, the only solid product of the meeting seemed to be a long list of questions posed by residents. Among these was an open question about zoning: Though park planner Ricardo Soliz insisted that the area under consideration was zoned for general mixed use, including commercial, PODER Director Susana Almanza was convinced that it had been marked for residential mixed-use.


City staff estimate the cost of a disc golf course to be close to $100,000.


Opponents of the project suggested that city funds could be better used to address other area issues — from sidewalk repair to the maintenance of existing Guerrero Park ball fields to affordable housing. Though city staff did their best to detail the intricacies of the funding bureaucracy, their explanations did little to satisfy the generally frustrated crowd.


In the end, the meeting was somewhat dominated by activist and River Bluff Neighborhood Association member Daniel Llanes, who questioned the motives behind the project.


“We are very upset because this is a typical thing that happens in Austin,” he said. “We worked hard and long to create plans for (this park), the Montopolis team worked hard and long to create their plan, and I have a question that I want a real answer to: Where did the decision to buy this property come from? Who made that decision?”


After the meeting Llanes told In Fact Daily that the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan calls for affordable housing. He added that the spot being considered for the disc golf course would be ideal. “That’s a parcel in the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan,” he said. “The zoning for that is partially commercial, partially housing, partially retail … it’s multi-use. Every single time the Parks Department mentions this, they only say it’s commercial, as though that’s all it could be used for.


“We don’t have a problem with a disc golf course … what we’re complaining about is that they’re stealing the possibility for affordable housing in an area that’s having gentrification like crazy … and only city land makes affordable housing.”


For her part, Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Kelly Snook called Llanes’ suggestion that the land had been somehow misappropriated and pulled out from under the neighborhood “unusual.”


“Most people are quite happy to see land for parks, normally because it kind of ensures open space in perpetuity,” she said. “Our goal is to increase the acreage throughout the city so we kind of look for great opportunities to do that.”


Snook, who’s been on the job only four months, said that she couldn’t “speak to the politics that were here at the time this particular parcel was purchased.” She added that her team would look into the zoning question. 


Llanes, who also chairs the Keepers of the Colorado portion of PODER, said that he hadn’t heard about the deal until about eight months ago. “We have been monitoring this plan ever since it was adopted in 2000,” he said. “They never once mentioned purchasing that property in the quarterly meetings that we had.”


On the other hand, members of El Concilio, do support the disc golf course, according to a press release from group leader Gavino Fernandez. In a press release issued Wednesday, Fernandez said the group is also opposed to affordable housing on the site.

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