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Wednesday, December 10, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Decker golf proposal likely going to next Council

Lobbyist Richard Suttle surprised most observers Tuesday by asking City Council to postpone a decision on whether to allow his client, Decker Lake Golf LLC, to create a PGA-style golf complex at Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. The request came when Mayor Lee Leffingwell called upon Suttle to speak during Council’s work session.

City staff has been working on the proposal since last year and selected Decker Lake Golf as the best plan for the city in August. Neighbors in Colony Park, an area “that has been neglected or underserved,” in Suttle’s words, have supported the plan.

However, Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros raised serious concerns about how the city would be perceived by the Lower Colorado River Authority and downstream water users if Council approved a new golf course, which normally would use 115 million gallons of water per year. He was not alone in those concerns.

But Suttle told Council on Tuesday, “The proposal as it is right now makes Austin a leader in best practices” for golf courses, “both from an environmental and water usage standpoint and from the city finance standpoint.”

“We believe those questions have been answered, but there probably hasn’t been enough time to get all those answers out. There are still folks that are operating with bad information,” he continued.

Suttle noted that the contract his client was asking the city to approve had many trigger points, meaning the Council that takes office in January would be involved regardless. “In other words, this project wasn’t going to keep moving without the buy-in of the next Council,” he said.

He then requested that Council postpone action until late February, so that the next Council does not feel rushed in its decision on the matter.

“It relieves the pressure that doesn’t need to be there on a project that is so good for our city,” Suttle said.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole immediately said that she would support a postponement Thursday. Cole tried to postpone the item until February the last time it came up.

Council Members Laura Morrison, Kathie Tovo and Bill Spelman each individually told the Monitor after the meeting that they would support a postponement. Each of them seemed very likely to vote against the project as it stood on the agenda for Thursday.

Also Tuesday, the city’s acting purchasing officer, Urcha Dunbar-Crespo, ruled that the parties involved with the development of the golf course had not violated the city’s anti-lobbying ordinance. In a memo to Leffingwell and Council, Dunbar-Crespo rejected the complaint from activist Brian Rodgers.

It seems likely that Ora Houston will win the District 1 race in next week’s runoff election. Since the golf course would be in her district, Houston has a particular interest in it. She has said that the new Council, not the current one, should be making the decisions related to the park and the golf course. Suttle said he had not been in contact with Houston because he did not want to insert the issue into the election.

This post was updated at 1:08pm December 10 to include the Urcha Dunbar-Crespo memo.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Armbrust & Brown: law practice based in Austin. Armbrust & Brown has donated to the Capital of Texas Media Foundation.

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.

Decker Lake: Also known as Walter E. Long lake, Decker Lake is actually a power plant cooling reservoir managed by the city of Austin and located in East Austin.

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