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Martinez to offer resolution to resolve status of Austin Youth Hostel

Monday, February 27, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Council Member Mike Martinez will bring forward a resolution that would extend the Austin Youth Hostel’s lease for another 10 years. The measure would also waive a possible Chapter 26 hearing that might otherwise be required for the facility to maintain its parkland location.


However, the director of the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation department Sara Hensley tells In Fact Daily that she does not plan to pursue a license agreement with the Austin Youth Hostel that would extend their stay on city parkland until Dec. 1, 2013. Without that extension, the hostel will have to vacate its 2200 South Lakeshore Boulevard location by Jan. 1, 2013.


That action runs contrary to a letter Hensley sent to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other members of the Austin City Council on Dec. 20, 2011. There, she wrote that she would look to the city’s legal department to set up a Chapter 26 hearing that would seek public input on the matter in advance of a legal extension.


Either way, Hensley’s department doesn’t see the hostel as an ideal fit for the space it’s on. “We support the hostel, we support what they do,” she told In Fact Daily. “(But) how do you justify the use of parkland for out of town folks?”


This is not the first spat of contention for the hostel. The facility has been at its location, on prime parks real estate along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, since 1989. In 2000, parks officials tried to move it in favor of departmental offices. After a fight by then-Council Member Jackie Goodman it received a five-year reprieve. Another followed, and then expired in 2010. Parks officials and the hostel have been trying to find a solution since.


Despite her repeated support of the hostel, Hensley said that it wasn’t the right fit for parkland – especially not at its current location. “These are good people and they’re doing good things for the City of Austin,” she said before noting that the hostel is located at the foot of where the new pedestrian boardwalk will be. “We believe that there is a higher and better use (for that land),” she said.


A Chapter 26 hearing is mandated by state law any time parks land is repurposed for non-parks usage. Despite the fact that the law was in effect for at least a portion of the hostel’s agreement with the city, no such hearing was conducted. “The hostel has done nothing wrong,” said Hensley. “This department has over 300 agreements. Many of them have slipped through the cracks.”


The director also suggested that the city’s needs had changed since the parties first signed their agreement. “What was used and what was needed for parkland in 1988 (isn’t the same as it is now),” she said.


Hensley added that the city would seek to rent the property to a different concession. She said that they would issue requests for proposals for the property. She also noted that parks staff had moved on from the notion of using the building as departmental office space.


Hostel executive director Kassi Darakhshan declined comment. The hostel paid  $2205 per month in rent to the city last year. It also chipped in for $25,000 in hotel taxes.


Martinez’s resolution is on the draft agenda for this Thursday’s meeting.

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