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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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PARD discovers massive encroachment, damage to city parkland
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
Sara Hensley, director of Parks and Recreation, becomes visibly distressed when discussing the details of a recently discovered incident of encroachment on parkland. “It is a serious, serious issue of encroachment—the worst I’ve ever seen in my career,” said Hensley.
Surveyors working to construct a trail in the Colorado River/ Walnut Creek Greenbelt discovered the situation. Driveway Austin, a “motorsports academy and retreat” located just next to the park appears to be responsible for the damage, which is quite extensive.
“There are several major encroachments from his property that are on our city-owned park land including a racetrack and crash barriers, a boat ramp channeled through the park property, a boat dock and a four-by-four off-road track, spoil and dump sites and cleared brush and other debris deposited on parkland,” said Hensley.
“The severity of encroachments are quite, and I mean quite, big. The damage to our parkland is huge. There’s cut and fill, there’s spoil dumping, there’s a complete disregard that this was parkland,” said Hensley. “And it’s obvious that this individual knew that this was parkland.”
Pictures obtained by In Fact Daily show piles of tires, wood chips, and deep paths cut in to the land. Parks and Recreation Board Chair Linda Guerrero described “over six feet worth of chips from trees that were destroyed to cut a path.”
“It’s horrific,” Guerrero added. “I saw photographs; it is blatant. I’m hoping the EPA has been contacted with what we’ve seen happening to this property.”
“The evidence of storage of tires, electrical and water supplies, and even hazardous material on park land concerns me,” said Hensley.
While it is unclear exactly how long the encroachment has been taking place, Hensley explained that the city had worked with the property owner in 2007 to develop the track and grant an easement to the park, which was blocked by the business. “What’s interesting is that this individual then came back and put a gate and everything on it and was locking it up, which kept us from getting on to our easement, which is another issue,” said Hensley.
Hensley also noted that a memo from the assistant director of the Watershed Protection Department explicitly stated that the easement was “not giving them permission in any way to use parkland.”
After consulting with the City Attorney’s office, the Parks and Recreation Department sent a letter on March 3 to Bill Dollahite on Delwau Lane, detailing the damage to the park land. The letter also ordered Dollahite to cease and desist all unauthorized use of parkland and submit a restoration plan for approval.
Following receipt of that letter, “staff sat down with an individual that’s representing a conglomerate of others and they asked us to move forward and swap land,” said Hensley. “The next letter is basically stating that we are not able to do that and we’re asking that they go ahead and work with out staff to restore our property.”
The Parks and Recreation Department sent the second letter on March 22. Hensley speculated that the response to it would be “where the fun begins.”
“While some people may think this is insignificant, I assure you it is not,” Hensley told members of the parks board. “This isn’t going to go away, and I know that this is going to be a fairly contentious issue, and that’s why I wanted you to know, because this isn’t a situation where someone has encroached five feet into something and we can easily mitigate it.”
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