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ZAP approves plans for project to house city’s chronically homeless

Thursday, July 18, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

With a preliminary plan approval in hand, developers of the Sunshine RV Park on the city’s outskirts are one step closer to making almost a decade’s worth of plans a reality and offering a new resource to the city’s poorest residents.


The RV park is located on 27 acres at 9301 Hog Eye Road, in the city’s eastern extraterritorial jurisdiction. Developers were seeking approval of a preliminary plan to subdivide the lot into 11 single-family lots and one commercial lot. The Zoning and Platting Commission approved the request unanimously, with Commissioner Gabriel Rojas absent.


Alan Graham, president of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, told the commission about what he explained was “a vision nine years in the making.”


Graham said the project, dubbed the Community First Village is modeled on an RV park, and will feature places of worship, a theater, sustainable food cultivation, workshops for micro-enterprise businesses, a 2,500 square foot on-site medical building and housing for the city’s chronically homeless population.


Mobile Loaves and Fishes is currently supported by over 50 faith organizations, with over 12,000 volunteers in the Austin area. The organization serves over 1,000 meals a day in the city.


According to Graham, the Community First Village will be a gated, secure community. Residents will be required to pay rent, obey laws, and abide by the rules of the community.


Though many Imperial Valley residents oppose the project coming to their community, there is strong support for the park from other Austinites.


Caritas Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn threw her wholehearted support behind the endeavor, as did Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League.


Calling it the “most important project our city can endorse,” League detailed plans for the Drafthouse to construct a drive-in and bed and breakfast on the site in the future in order to put a “public face” on the project.


Chair Betty Baker explained to those in attendance that the commissioners had no discretion about approving subdivisions that meet city and state requirements. Despite this warning, residents lined up behind the podium to speak their piece about the plans.


Many of those opposed to the project cited fears of increased crime, and worries about bringing those with mental illnesses and drug addictions into their community. Though some supported the concept in a general sense, they openly acknowledged that they didn’t want it in their backyards.


Others expressed concern about moving the vulnerable population of chronically homeless away from the city.


“It does not boil clean,” said Imperial Valley Neighborhood Association President Kenneth Koym. “(There is) no chance for the homeless to re-integrate…It’s out on the far perimeters of the city of Austin, in fact outside of Austin. That’s not a plan for Austin. It’s a plan for outside of Austin.”


A few neighbors that had toured the site spoke in support of the project, despite their proximity. Commissioner Patricia Seeger, who also visited the site, urged those who opposed the park to learn more about it.


“While I was there I had all of my questions about safety and transportation answered. Before going there, they were real concerns. When I walked away, I was really a huge supporter,” said Seeger.

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