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Board wants to know if park land is really part of Mabel Davis Park

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Doubting claims by the applicant, the Board of Adjustment has postponed a case that would help pave the way for a new strip club in South Austin.

 

Rosemary Follis, the owner of 2201 Ben White Boulevard, is seeking a variance to decrease the minimum separation distance between an adult-oriented business and a public park from 1,000 to 863.65 feet.

 

The Land Development Code requires adult establishments to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, daycares or parks. In this case, the 1,000 feet encroaches into the South tip of Mabel Davis Park about 140 feet.

 

If the variance is granted, the property owners will need to get a conditional use permit to operate the strip club.

 

Follis purchased the property from 84 Lumber Company in 1990, later operating Dance Across Texas at the location.

 

“What makes this property unique is its location in relation to what was once a public landfill that had toxic soil and poisonous gases. Despite its contamination the south end of the park is now Mabel Davis Park. According to the PARD, the condemnation cannot be fixed. The department stated that the property is not now, or will ever be used as public parkland,” said Follis

 

“It is public parkland. So that is not correct. It is part of Mabel Davis Park,” said Parks and Recreation Division Manager Ricardo Soliz to In Fact Daily. “Now, will it be used for active recreation? I don’t know… But to say that it would not be used as parkland is not correct. It is parkland.”

 

“There is a creek there, but who’s to say that we wouldn’t channelize the creek and do something in the future. It would be hard to say… It is parkland, and it will be continue to be parkland unless it goes up for a vote and the voters choose to relinquish that as parkland,” said Soliz.

 

Charlie Nohra, who was representing Follis, told the board a different story.

 

“I personally have spoken to D’Anne Williams, who is the architect for the park and Ricardo Soliz, who is the supervising manager for that park. Unfortunately, they cannot go on record to state any of this, but if you want to check with them, you can verify that information,” said Nohra. “They can’t produce any documents, because they are city employees.”

 

“I know that park personally. I was out there every day for a . . . year, sucking methane gas out of there. So I know what is underneath it,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen. “They may not put basketball courts and everything out there, but currently right now there are a lot of trails that go through there and kids use them. That’s primarily my concern.”

 

Chair Jeff Jack explained that the board needed something verifiable that stated that was the position of the Parks Department, which led Nohra to request a postponement to find that something.

 

Sebastian Stadler, who owns the property across the road from Follis, spoke against the variance, despite a separation of eight lanes of traffic and a lack of clarity about what type of business was planned for the space.

 

“There’s been a problem on and off with vagrants in the area, and I think it would just stigmatize our property, even though we are across the street, to have an adult-oriented business located there,” said Stadler. “I don’t think they have invested any money into their property since they have owned it. I think they are just looking for an easy way to continue to own it without investing anything into it.”

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