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Neighbors making progress in goal to buy AISD land for green space

Thursday, December 6, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

After temporarily thwarting a would-be residential development, residents of a southwestern Austin neighborhood, want to permanently preserve a dozen acres of land they’ve used as an unofficial park for a generation.

 

In July, Austin City Council, swayed by pleas from residents to give them more time to buy the land, rejected a request to rezone the property to make way for a single-family housing development. Consequently, the potential buyer withdrew its bid. 

 

The land has been owned by the Austin Independent School District for roughly 40 years, but the district no longer is looking to build a school on it. Instead, the prairie grass-covered 12.45-acre property has served as a green space in the middle of the Estates at Travis Country, where residents walk, enjoy nature and play outside.

 

Since the summer, residents have worked toward their goal to keep the land green, and they are raising money in hopes of buying the lot and turning it into a conservation easement.

 

To help, the Native Prairies Association of Texas is holding a pledge drive to purchase the land for preservation. Its website explains that the property is a remnant of live oak savanna, in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. They go on to call the vacant land a prime outdoor teaching area and nature preserve.

 

The last time the property was up for bid, it was appraised at $600,000, though AISD wanted a minimum bid of $750,000. The successful bidder offered $980,000, and the neighborhood association offered $250,000, with a promise of additional funds if given the chance for more time for fundraising.

 

Selling school-owned property is not a simple process. The district must first offer the property for public bids, and then the school board would decide whom to sell it to. AISD’s Executive Director of Facilities Paul Turner said that while they could consider factors that would benefit the district other than financially, it was unclear how those less tangible benefits, like conservation, would be weighed.

 

“There is a very proscribed process that we have to go through,” explained Turner. “It’s all driven by the law and the government code, and after any bids are received we have to prepare the information and present it and then the board makes a decision about whether they want to accept one of the offers.”

 

While the residents continue to raise funds, the school district has not put the land up for sale again. Turner told In Fact Daily that he had received no direction to place the land back on the market. Turner said that he didn’t know if the land would be put up for sale again any time soon.

 

“We’ve already gone through a couple of offers on this property,” said Turner. “The successful bidders have both withdrawn the two times that we’ve offered the property. And at this point, we don’t have any further direction to move forward to re-offer it. That could change.”

 

Neighborhood resident Cynthia Wilcox is looking forward to that change. She praised the work of the Native Prairies Association, particularly its work of replacing invasive plant species with vegetation best suited to preserve smaller tracts of land.

 

“What I am hoping happens is the Native Prairies Association purchases the conservation easement on it,” Wilcox said. “That would be the most appropriate use of it, certainly. And it would be a wonderful thing to do right here in this really sensitive spot right here on the recharge zone.”

 

“AISD is aware of the support for conservation. They are really well aware of that,” Wilcox added.

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