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Fate of Crestview land parcel remains in limbo

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though the fate of an Austin Energy-owned parcel of land in the Crestview neighborhood remains uncertain, there was an update about 6909 Ryan Drive last month.

Planning and Development Review Department Director Greg Guernsey wrote the Dec. 10 memo that provided an update on the land, though nothing will be done without City Council initiating action.

Among other details, the memo says that the most recent fair market appraised value of the land is $5.38 million.

In May 2013, after an outcry from neighbors and direction from Council, the city issued a report detailing the development scenarios for the lot. Since then, the city has engaged with the community and discovered that while the neighborhood valued connectivity, alternative transportation and affordable housing, “when it came to identifying a favored redevelopment scenario for this particular parcel, the nearby neighborhoods expressed a very strong preference for an all-parkland redevelopment scenario.”

That, perhaps, is an understatement. When the issue was last before Council, neighbors — along with a giant inflatable pig– flooded City Hall to demand a park on the land. A group called the Crestview Park Coalition formed, and a city document detailing Crestview Capital Improvements noted that in September 2013, “Crestview residents [were] demanding a park. It is THE most desired capital improvement.”

The regulating plan and the station area plan have already identified the site as a location of a pocket park that will be at least half an acre.

The land is located within a Transit-Oriented District. If it were to be developed, that means there is a two-story minimum and an allowed density of 45 units per acre, though that can be increased through a density bonus. And, because the community most wants a park, if the land were to be developed, at least half the parkland dedication requirements would need to be fulfilled on-site.

Currently, as explained in the memo, the city has a few options. Council could direct Austin Energy to divest itself of the parcel and declare it surplus property. That would give the Austin Housing Finance Corporation the right of first refusal. If that sale was approved, AHFC could work with the Parks and Recreation Department to either buy the parcel outright or through a loan from the utility. It could then, according to the memo, “create an energy efficient, family friendly, mixed-income and mixed-use development including public park open space and neighborhood amenities.”

The memo adds that a “joint-venture partnership with a private sector development firm … would allow AHFC to maintain ownership of the land and ground lease the property back to the development partnership.”

“Such a partnership would support long-term affordable housing options, allow for a mix of incomes, increase opportunities for neighborhood oriented commercial development, and potentially provide opportunities to finance some of the costs associated with park development and maintenance.”

Alternately, if the AHFC board (which is made up of Council members) did not exercise its right of first refusal, the land could potentially be retained as parkland.

However, the memo warns: “The Parks and Recreation Department has limited funding to contribute toward property acquisition and parkland development costs. Therefore the purchase of the parcel and the capital improvements for park amenities would be contingent upon City Council allocating sufficient funds.”


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