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Colony Park residents want voice in development

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the debate over proposed golf courses at Decker Lake continuing this week, and approval of the Colony Park Sustainable Community Initiative PUD likely Thursday, representatives from the Colony Park Neighborhood Association sat down with the Austin Monitor to give their perspective on the changes that might be headed their way.

Colony Park Neighborhood Association president Barbara Scott said the $3 million HUD grant, which will end in December, worked “very well” once they got involved with the process. The neighborhood won the grant in 2012, and the money has gone toward the Colony Park Initiative, which will culminate in the master plan at the end of this year.

But that, points out neighborhood association member Margarita Decierdo, is just a plan. She stresses the importance of the community staying focused and involved throughout its implementation. She says they are hoping to have a say in who is going to head the development of Colony Park, and to ensure that they understand the community and what is needed.

“Our voice is really heard through the master plan. That’s the evidence of our hard work,” said Decierdo.

The grant allowed the city and the community to plan out 208 acres of housing, commercial and office uses, and parkland. As a SMART housing project, 20 percent of the residential units will serve households at or below 80 percent of Median Family Income. The PUD will include up to 1,622 multifamily units, 866 single-family units and over 522,000 square feet of commercial space. In all, the project could add more than 3,000 residential units to the area. The property is owned by the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, and future development will be by private developers.

The master plan also includes at least 45.8 acres of natural area and at least 9.1 acres of parkland, which will allow the neighborhood to raise funds to build the park that they explain is desperately needed. Residents have also asked for a pool in their neighborhood, but those funds have never been allocated.

“Right now, our children are climbing over the fences of apartment complexes to go swimming,” said Scott. “We don’t have a pool.”

More important, says neighborhood association member Helen Miler, is that the PUD is not developed as an island, but as part of the community. She says they want everyone to come together, and they’ve reached out to different city departments to stress that message.

Though that process was deemed a success by everyone at the table, they pointed out that they had to push for the process to be collaborative, and would like to see similar collaborations between other city departments to, for example, establish better youth programming and more effective follow-through for code compliance issues.

Along the same lines, the neighborhood association representatives hope they are heard in the clamor over the proposed Decker Lake golf courses. Scott says that she would welcome the development of a course, and the amenities that could come with it, over the current state of the land, which cannot be accessed by the community.

“I have people calling me, telling me we should protest the golf course,” said Scott. “Well, they don’t live in my area. They have, probably, a park, and a swimming pool, and maybe a golf course. And I’m pretty sure that they have stores and grocery stores and restaurants where they can sit down and eat. We don’t have that. Any development we can get in that area, we need to accept it and appreciate it.”

Scott said that residents are not concerned that the development could mean higher property values in the neighborhood.

“The homeowners that live out there, and that pay taxes, we’re saying, ‘Come on, development. Come on,’” said Scott. “I love a good steak every now and again. I have to either go to Round Rock or I have to go to South Austin. We don’t have anything.”

Even more insulting, said Decierdo, is the assumption that they should be grateful for the help and thankful for what they already have.

“That doesn’t sit well with us,” said Decierdo. “You don’t need to patronize us. We’re grown folk.”

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