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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Council votes to hold hearing on lease for Austin hostel
Friday, March 2, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano
Last night, the City Council rebuffed an attempt to oust the city’s only youth hostel from its current location on city park land, voting 7-0 in favor of a resolution sponsored by Council Member Mike Martinez, with a significant amendment.
Instead of immediately extending the hostel’s lease as Martinez had proposed, Council opted to send the matter to a Chapter 26 hearing, as mandated by state law, that would allow the hostel to renew its contract through a public process.
With a threat from Parks and Recreation Department’s Director Sara Hensley to not extend a license agreement with the hostel, which was scheduled to terminate on Jan. 1, 2013, Martinez brought forward a resolution to extend the Austin Youth Hostel’s lease for another 10 years. It also attempted to waive the hearing that would otherwise be required by Texas state law in order for the facility to maintain its current location on city park land.
When asked by Mayor Lee Leffingwell why past renewals were done administratively, Hensley said she had no answer, and simply stated that she was advised to initiate a Chapter 26 hearing this time.
“The reason that we are here in the first place is because an administrative decision was made with no public input to terminate the hostel agreement and ask them to move out. And I think that the important thing here is that it should be a public process. The interest in maintaining the hostel there is very, very strong in the community, and the idea of enhancing the agreement and enhancing the experience all around is a terrific idea,” said Council Member Laura Morrison.
“I think that it’s inappropriate to be making administrative decisions like that, so I’m glad that we have it here in front of us,” said Morrison.
Though he did not initially vote for the amendment for the Chapter 26 hearing, Martinez ultimately voted for the process.
“I’m not opposed to a conversation on whether or not that’s the best location for it, but I would actually hope we would have that conversation before we just tell them, ‘you’ve got to leave,’ and have no place for them to go,” Martinez told In Fact Daily. “And so, when staff gave them the notice that their lease would be expiring and we would not renew it, I felt pretty strongly about it – that we should extend their lease and have this conversation about whether or not there is a better location for them as opposed to just summarily telling them they have to move out.”
The hostel has been at its South Lakeshore Boulevard location since 1989. In 2000, PARD tried to evict the facility in order to claim it as office space, a move that was fought by then-Council Member Jackie Goodman.
Planning and Development Review’s Jerry Rusthoven drafted the original contract as Goodman’s aide. He was on hand to testify as a private citizen at City Council.
Though Hensley expressed support for the hostel and its mission, she also claimed that it was no longer the right fit for the location, which is expected to become more valuable as development in the Riverside Corridor advances, and construction of the boardwalk around Lady Bird Lake is completed.
Council Member Chris Riley also noted the pending boardwalk, noting that the upcoming hearing could be an opportunity to “make it a more welcoming destination for visitors as well as residents… since this is Austin parkland.”
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