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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Landowners looking to sell land for preservation along 45SW
A movement is afoot to have the city of Austin and Travis County purchase large tracts of land alongside the would-be route for the extension of State Highway 45. Those buys, which would set aside that land for preservation, would effectively cut off virtually all development on the road.
The action would also set aside acreage along the route for a 30-plus mile hike-and-bike trail system that would extend from Barton Springs into Hays County. All told, the cost of acquiring the land is roughly $12.5 million – a figure that, according to a representative of the current landowners, represents a steep discount. Costs would be split between city and county coffers.
When presented with the plan, the Travis County Commissioners Court elected to wait on action from Austin. “I don’t know that the Council has provided feedback,” said County Judge Sam Biscoe. “Mayor (Lee Leffingwell) indicates that’s why he would put it on the City Council’s agenda. So I think that our next move is to allow the mayor to get feedback from the Council.”
Attorney Steven Drenner of Drenner & Golden Stuart Wolff presented the issue to the court as a representative for the current landowners. He told the commissioners that, should they decide to move forward, they would be purchasing a total of 552 acres of land. “I think this is an unusual opportunity to acquire … (land) that would completely eliminate the possibility of development along and adjoining the extension of SH45, if that extension is built,” he said.
Preservation, he suggested, would also help with the Walk for a Day Trail System. When completed, the system would stretch from south Austin to near FM150 in Hays County.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber wondered if the land in question could be developed. “Is water and wastewater really available for development?” she asked.
“We think there are sources for both water and wastewater on all of these tracts,” said Drenner. “But I’ve never had one that couldn’t be developed at the end of the day.”
Biscoe said that the plan “looks like an opportunity that we may want to take advantage of.” Still, he mentioned at least one possible complication: The county acquired 400 feet of right of way for the potential construction of SH45, but because that road is technically a state project, it is now owned by the state of Texas.
“It’s easy to deed property to the state. It’s very, very difficult to get it back,” Biscoe said.
Should the project move forward, there could also be some sparks over a funding split. “I indicated to (Mayor Leffingwell) that the county has already spent a little bit more than $3 million on 45 Southwest acquisitions. I indicated to him that I thought that if the county were interested in a partnership, it would not be with us paying for 50 percent of it. It would be with us paying substantially less than that,” Biscoe said.
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