Friday, October 17, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

City purchase of Bull Creek property a no-go

After getting word that a last-ditch effort to purchase the property was not going to work, and without the funds to purchase the land outright, City Council abandoned plans Thursday to purchase 75 acres at Bull Creek and 45th Street.

In a vote of 2-5, a resolution failed that would have signaled the city’s intent to buy the land from the Texas Department of Transportation for $28.9 million. Only Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voted in favor of the resolution.

The city has the right of first refusal to purchase the land, but Council’s Thursday vote means that TxDOT is now free to move forward with a private sale of the land.

Morrison argued that the land could represent a “terrific project” for the city. Though she acknowledged there was no money for the city to purchase the land at this time, she argued a positive vote about the intent to buy, which would give the city time to find funding and a development partner.

“I think that it’s such an opportunity for the city. I’d like to just be able to make this statement,” said Morrison.

Tovo agreed with Morrison and said the site “offered an extraordinary opportunity that will not come again in this part of town.” She said that she felt there was “an enormous value in taking a strong stand” and show the city’s serious intent to buy the land, despite financing challenges.

“A strong statement has already been made,” said Council Member Bill Spelman. “Any further statement we would make would be purely rhetorical.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said that they had already heard that TxDOT wouldn’t accept the offer, and voting in favor of an intent to buy would be a “waste of everyone’s time.”

“I do not see any point in making a statement that we know will be rejected,” said Leffingwell. “We were told today that it would be rejected.”

Leffingwell said that he believed that, no matter who purchased the property, the city would maintain “considerable leverage” over what could be constructed through its zoning process. The land is currently not zoned, and will need to be zoned before anything can be built on it.

Council Member Mike Martinez agreed, and said that although he had hoped a deal could be worked out, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.

“We have a lot of control moving forward,” said Martinez. “There are not utilities under this property. There’s no infrastructure whatsoever. In order for anyone to develop it, there is going to have to be a substantial partnership with the city, and it’s going to have to comply with all of our zoning laws.”

 

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

TxDOT: The transportation agency for the State of Texas.

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