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Environmental Board backs plan for changes to Barton Springs pool

Monday, February 25, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Environmental Board voted last week to recommend a plan for changes to the Barton Springs Pool, including a variance to the Save Our Springs Ordinance to allow a small increase in impervious cover. The plan has been making its way to City Council for more than four years and various bodies, including the Environmental Board, have heard hundreds of hours of input — much of it negative.


The vote was almost unanimous. Board Member Marisa Perales was the lone vote of dissent. Though she voted in favor of the variances to allow construction, she voted against the amendments to the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Board Member Jennifer Walker was absent.


“I thought that I didn’t have a really big problem with expanding the parking lot, but I really didn’t hear a convincing argument – or much of an argument – regarding the need for the extra 42 spaces in this particular area. Looking at the language in the Barton Springs Master Plan has been quite persuasive for me,” said Perales. “I have reservations about this.”


The current proposal would modify the south parking lot, which is gravel, by paving it. On the one hand, refurbishing of the lot would increase water quality, by limiting silt and runoff associated with the gravel.


However, the decision to increase the size of the lot by 0.4 acres of impervious cover was not as popular.


“We can’t set the precedent that we are going to throw SOS in the corner because somebody, not Council, but somebody who thinks they are the owner, wants to expand parking in the urban core,” said Save Our Springs Executive Director Bill Bunch. “Everybody is saying we have to reclaim the urban core for bicycles, people and parks, and reduce car habitat. Please pay attention to that.”


Though the Environmental Board recommended the variances and amendments, they did not do so without comment. The board added several conditions to their recommendation for approval.


First, they asked that any redevelopment of the pool maintain the current impervious cover on the site. They stopped short of asking for specific reductions in impervious cover, such as removal of additional parking. Instead, they settled on the notion that a balance should be achieved in the final plan.


The board also added a condition that the path and overlook which lead to a monument on the South Slope of the pool not be included in the changes. Though the board opted to recommend against the overlook and path to the monument as currently designed, they did not intend this to limit accessibility to the south slope for people with disabilities.


Board Member Mary Ann Neely said that with improved lawn quality and a potential grass walkway, which was suggested by Austin Sierra Club’s Roy Waley, an impervious path might not be needed for access.


“What I’m hoping is that with that treatment, and the watering, is that people with disabilities will have the ability to go across the lawn and look out, so they won’t need a trail,” said Neely. “Everyone talks about how wonderful (it is) to look out… If it’s so wonderful, why can’t everyone experience it?”


Many of those who attended the Wednesday night meeting openly struggled with some of the plans, which they say violate the Barton Springs Master Plan.


“Staff is suggesting that the current plan is the product of process. That is simply not true. It disrespects the (Barton Springs Master) plan, it disrespects direction from Council, and it disrespects overwhelming public input,” said Bunch.


Kimberly McNeeley, who is an Assistant Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, assured the board that the massive amount of input received about the pool had been heard.


“We don’t have the luxury of a single focus. It’s important that we listen to all stakeholders, and we somehow incorporate that into what we hope would be a plan that brings people into consensus, but we don’t have the luxury of focusing on a single issue,” said McNeeley.


City Council is expected to set a public hearing on the changes for March 28.

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