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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Council argument over street naming to continue
Monday, November 19, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano
It looks like the saga of Arena Drive will have yet another chapter. The City Council voted to postpone the case to their December 6 meeting after lengthy discussions at their most recent meeting and the work session preceding it.
The council voted 4-3 for postponement. Council Members Kathie Tovo and Bill Spelman along with Mayor Lee Leffingwell were opposed to the decision to postpone. Leffingwell called it, “much ado over what is a very small item,” and indicated that he did not favor the change.
The request to change the name of Arena Drive to Shore District Drive may seem innocuous, but has struck a nerve with the community and several Council Members. The request for the name change, “for purposes of neighborhood enhancement”, was submitted in April.
The road connects Riverside Drive and Shore Drive, and is the site of a recent building project that displaced affordable housing to make way for new development. With the construction project underway, Council Member Laura Morrison has openly worried that the name change amounts to “free advertising” for developers, Grayco Partners. Other Council Members doubt the historical significance of the name, which was thought to refer to a nonexistent arena early in the process. The general consensus now is that it refers to the Spanish word for sand.
Winstead PC Attorney John Donisi, who spoke on behalf of Grayco Partners, said that while they had considered the name’s Spanish meaning, he suspected the vast majority of those passing by the street were “likely somewhat befuddled that there is no arena on arena.”
“I looked it up in the dictionary, and it also means quicksand, which is not so inviting,” said Donisi.
Toni House, a member of the East Riverside Corridor contact team, explained that (according to her research) Arena Drive is located on what was once the Tinnin Plantation and the nearby crossing at Tinnin Ford was important to the Chisholm Trail, especially as a way to avoid quicksand that could be found in the area.
House said the road was like an old friend.
Leffingwell said that he would favor denying the name change.
“I think there should be a compelling reason to change the name of a street that’s been named that for 53 years,” said Leffingwell. “I heard a real good story tonight about the origins of where that name might have come from. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a good story,” he said. “And I like the name Arena better.”
Council Members Morrison and Tovo both spoke in support of retaining the name Arena. Council Members Spelman and Mike Martinez stated that they would have no problems with a change in nomenclature. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole attempted to change the name to “Arena Shore Drive,” but was unsuccessful, as that name was not posted on the agenda.
South Shore district was the original name requested, but was rejected by the emergency dispatch service as directionally confusing. House said the name is still confusing with Shores Drive and Rio Shores is soon to come. Rio Shores will be added just blocks away, courtesy of another development, expanding on the already-existing South Lake Shore Boulevard. House said that with so many changes taking place and on the horizon, the city should strive to maintain a sense of place, especially when it is as simple as maintaining a street name.
Donisi said that the issue may have exposed some flaws in the street-naming process, which he called “awkward.” He told Council that, in retrospect, they should have met with neighbors before submitting names to the emergency dispatch service. The submission was made in April and a new name was had by August.
As part of the process, property owners on the street must agree to the name change. In this case, the sole other property owner on the street is in agreement.
“We are talking about an area of town that is undergoing great change,” said Tovo. “As our city changes in really dramatic ways, we need to hold on to some of those pieces of the historical and cultural fabric. That’s really what defines us as a community.”
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