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Council finalizes plans for improvements to Barton Springs pool area

Monday, April 15, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

After more than four years of discussions, improvements are finally coming to Barton Springs.


Once complete, the improvements will, in the words of Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Kimberly McNeely, “Take what we currently see at Barton Springs and bring it back to its former glory.”


The process was contentious, almost to the very end. The two-year design process had more than 30 public meetings, and over 15 additional stakeholder meetings which grew heated at times. At the Planning Commission meeting in February, which was the last stop before City Council, the meeting lasted long into the night and ended with a recommendation that the variances that would allow improvements be denied.


After some changes, City Council approved the variances, voting 6-0 Thursday to approve the variances. Council Member Kathie Tovo was on a Sister Cities trip in China.


As In Fact Daily noted last week, while at Barton Springs Council Member Laura Morrison came up with a new plan for the controversial south slope path that was, miraculously, agreeable to the opposing sides.


“As has been reported, on Tuesday there was a bit of a Kumbaya moment,” said Austin Sierra Club’s Roy Waley. “It gave us a chance to stop bickering and come to terms.”


The new overlook offers a view of the south end of the pool, bluffs, and diving board. After meeting with Friends of Barton Springs, ADAPT, the Save Out Springs Alliance, representatives from the Urban Forestry Board and staff, Morrison said that she had a sense there was unanimous agreement that the move would be an improvement.


Morrison said that she found the need for ADA-compliant access to the south slope “very compelling” but was aware that the originally proposed positioning had a big impact on the existing atmosphere on the south lawn.


“I went and stood where we had seen where the overlook was going to be,” said Morrison. “The first thing that struck me was that it was in the sun.”


Morrison was also struck by the fact that the vantage point was quite a distance from the diving board. She met up with city staff to “wander around” and look for a better location. Instead of going off to the right, path will hug the ridge of the gully, running parallel to the ADA-path to the pool, veering slightly to the right.


“Basically you are going to be on a ridge, overlooking the ravine, down to the pool,” said Morrison.


Though there will be no path to the historic marker, Morrison added a condition that staff apply to the Texas Historical Commission to move the marker.


In the end, city staff backed away from a plan to increase impervious cover. Instead, there is a condition that there be no net increase of impervious cover, which currently stands at 44.42 percent. Any increases in impervious cover will be balanced by reductions in other areas.


The plan has also been modified to include more modest improvements to the south parking area. Staff originally proposed an expansion of the south lot to 124 spaces, but that has been modified to 80 spaces or less. The lot, which is currently gravel, will also be paved. The plan also includes space for at least 80 bicycle parking spaces.


Though much of the recent discussion about the grounds improvements have focused on the south slope, and its ticket booth, fence, parking lot and fence, the improvements will be on a much larger scale than that. The improvements will span the entire pool, replacing dangerous wiring with underground wiring, replacing current irrigation systems, changes to lighting, and changes to landscaping on the north side of the pool.

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