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Proposed gate opens disagreement between neighborhood, developers

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

People who live in one Southwest Austin neighborhood virtually unpaved the way for developers to privatize a few public roads.

On Tuesday, Travis County Commissioners Court listened while residents of The Ridge at Thomas Springs voiced their opposition to developers of The Overlook Estates adding gates that would in effect divide the two communities.

Their main concerns hinged on safety and traffic.

The roads in question are Lenape Trail, Lenape Cove, Superview Drive and Indian Scout Trail between SH 71 and US 290 about seven miles west of Oak Hill. The roads are within or near the older Ridge at Thomas Springs neighborhood and the Overlook Estates development which is owned by the Roy Butler family interests. It has available lots in the $130,000 range, and boasts scenic Hill Country views.

At issue was the developers’ desire to ultimately gate the development. To help them accomplish that, developers were asking Commissioners Court to open the door for them to begin a procedure to privatize the aforementioned roads and add community gates.

Laura Rice, resident of The Ridge, spoke to the court at length about how gates would threaten the safety of residents in both subdivisions, especially in the event of wildfire. According to Rice, a gate would prohibit neighbors from using a road they consider an emergency exit.

“We regularly saw pickup trucks and jeeps going down that trail, and we have had an unofficial evacuation plan for several years for residents who had 4x4s and Jeeps to use them,” she said. “We were going to get our residents out if we had to and use Lenape Trail to do that. It’s only been within about the past three years when it was suddenly (barricaded) that we have been unable to access that road.”

But, Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty says Lenape Trail was just that – a trail – until developers began paving it.

“Until the developer went in and started building these roads, it was a trail that you could walk through from the neighborhood into this tract of land,” Daugherty said. “They have built a road there now. That’s important in this thing.”

Glen Rinkenberger, who lives on Lenape Trail, admits it was a difficult road to maneuver.

“My issue is that I like to ride my bike to work,” he said. “As soon as the developers get finished with the construction, there will be this nice wide road that will allow cyclists, mainly me, to get from my house over to Circle Drive. If the street is allowed to be a public street, then I’ll be able to go down there on my bike. I’ve pushed my bike through the trail before – I walked it down the road — it was a dirt road that had lots of rocks in it.”

Developers might have gotten their private roads and their gates were it not for what appears to be a broken promise they made to neighbors during a meeting in September of last year.

Garry Brown, a Travis county resident who is also running for Pct. 2 Commissioner, told Commissioners Court that meeting between the developers and the neighbors came to an abrupt halt when the developers announced they would keep Lenape Trail public.

“All of a sudden, the developer (Turnquist Partners Realtors) and her group walked back in and announced they were going to make the road public,” Brown said. “I asked again to be sure that’s what they wanted and she said yes.”

Commissioner Daugherty, obviously irritated by this point, asked “Who was part of the September 25th meeting? I really thought this thing was going to be a pretty easy deal for me, but I am not happy if somebody was told something in a meeting and all of a sudden something has changed. Just point blank, was that told to the people at the 25th meeting?”

“No, we withdrew our proposal,” said Steve Turnquist, who then continued on for minutes more to talk about everything from traffic to trash issues. “I think what they’re confusing is we withdrew it…we never agreed we were going to keep this road public. I told them if it were public (they) would have all this traffic in there.”

But in what was clearly an awkward moment for Turnquist, Carol Balboa, another neighbor of The Ridge who said she was neither for nor against a gate at this time, addressed the court.

“It bothers me intensely for us to have that meeting on September 25th…and at that meeting…the developers barged in and said ‘OK, we’re going to make it public, that’s the end of it.’”

Balboa’s comment evoked a smattering of applause from neighbors and a rebuke from Daugherty.

“There is something very bothersome to me here, something was said and that’s what people thought. Now, we’re put in a box. Somebody’s going to be real upset for this. And I know why they’re going to be upset. You’re doing all the advertisement that this is going to be a gated community, and that’s putting the cart before the horse.”

Steve Turnquist told In Fact Daily that Turnquist Partners Realtors is no longer involved in this project, although the company’s name is still on the web site and the property.

The court postponed action on this item, urging both sides to attempt to reach a compromise.

The court expects to take up the issue at a later date.

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