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Parks Board splits over plan for metered parking at Butler Shores

Friday, September 6, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Plans to meter parking at Butler Shores Ball Fields divided the Parks and Recreation Board on last week and sparked a discussion about metering at city parks in general.


Motions were made both in favor of and against installation of meters in the park, but in the end, the board deadlocked 3-3. That means the proposal will move forward without a recommendation from the board.


Board Members Jeff Francell, Hill Abel and Lynn Osgood voted in favor of meters in Butler Park, and Chair Jane Rivera and Board Members Susana Almanza and Susan Roth voted against the meters. Board Member Dale Glover was absent.


The plan comes from a resolution sponsored by Council Member Chris Riley that asked the city to look into the viability of installing parking at the fields. The idea is not-so-secretly linked to the ongoing parking situation at Casa de Luz (See In Fact Daily June 11.)


After about a month of studying the situation, staff concluded that they would like to install six pay stations in the Butler Shores Park area, to be operational on weekdays from 8am to 4pm at a rate of one dollar per hour.


Assistant Director Jesse Vargas said they were still working on ways to ensure park patrons weren’t being charged, including parking permits for leagues that were using ball fields.


There was no support for the meters at a public meeting held on the topic.


“I guess that was probably expected,” said Park Development Coordinator Shawn Cooper.


Zilker Neighborhood Association member David King spoke against the proposal.


“We’re talking about park parking lots being used by commercial businesses and there hasn’t been one word about how we can get more park users in those parking lots,” said King. “Why isn’t that the priority?”


King said the expected annual revenue from the meters – just under $16,000 –  wasn’t worth it. He also expressed concern that the change would set a bad precedent that would allow businesses to take over public parking.


King said the move was part of a bigger plan to install meters in public parks, a claim that was borne out later in the meeting.


Vargas cautioned the board against making a sweeping recommendation against meters in parks, saying the department was looking into replacing temporary employees with meters in some other park locations, like Zilker and Emma Long parks that were not on the table yet.


“The thought is that some point in the future we may consider installing pay stations at those locations rather than have the labor tied up sitting in a booth, we could move the labor to do clean up and things of that nature,” said Vargas.


Roth said that she had received numerous phone calls and emails from residents against the installation of the meters. She also said that she agreed, and worried it would set a bad precedent for other parks.


Roth said that when she weighed the risk of alienating patrons or potential patrons of the park who could not afford parking against an expected revenue of $16,000, it seemed like “such a minor amount.”


“I just don’t see the financial gain in this action,” said  Roth.


The Parks Department studied the park for about three weeks in July, and found most of the use was from nearby construction, with 37-55 vehicles at times of survey. Additionally, they found patrons of Chuy’s and Casa de Luz using the lot and found10-30 vehicles when counted.


The survey also found “from 15 to 20 vehicles at all times” from the Barton Place Condominiums, with that number increasing to about 25 vehicles overnight.


“It led us to believe that we’re having quite a bit of retail and commercial use in the parking lots as well as residential use,” said Cooper.


Vargas said that they had agonized over the decision to install meters, and pointed out that metered parking on Toomey Road will most likely push more people who aren’t using the parks into the lots.


“In a way it’s a way of buffering a worse situation if we don’t do something about it,” said Vargas.

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