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Springdale Farm conflict moves to AISD

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

A dispute that was seemingly settled by the Planning Commission made its way to the Austin Independent School District on Monday night after residents surrounding Springdale Farm proactively reached out to trustees during public comment.

Springdale Farm, a 5-acre farm located in East Austin at 755 Springdale Road, filed an appeal June 19 after commissioners denied its conditional use permit application. AISD is playing a key role in Springdale Farm’s appeal because it allows the farm to use the parking lot at its former Allan Elementary School when hosting events.

“We’re asking that you all suspend all contract activities with Springdale Farm until this issue is resolved at the city,” said Daniel Llanes of the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Contact Team at the board’s regular meeting. “And you should look at any potential violations of your own policies relative to renting to a for-profit organization that promotes alcohol right by a school and a church.”

Springdale Farm’s appeal will go before City Council for a final decision on Aug. 19, city spokesperson Alicia Dean told the Austin Monitor. District 6 Board Member Paul Saldaña said he believes Council’s final decision will largely hinge on how AISD interprets the parking agreement.

Susana Almanza, a community member who spoke out against the farm, said that the school’s parking lot, which is across the street from the farm, contains the 71 spaces Springdale Farm is required to have for a conditional use permit.

“The only thing is, it’s not a permanent (arrangement), it’s on a case-by-case basis,” Almanza told the Monitor. “So, if AISD had to use (the lot), that would nullify the conditional use permit. Everything is riding on whether AISD is going to make it permanent or case-by-case.”

Planning commissioners’ June 9 decision denied the farm a conditional use permit that would allow a limitless number of small events (50 people or fewer) annually, plus two events of more than 150 people and 22 events with attendance numbering between 51 and 150. At 22 of these events, owners would also have been permitted to use sound amplifiers.

Under the city’s Urban Farm Ordinance, farms in single-family zones can apply for temporary use permits to be an outdoor entertainment venue up to six times per year. But the conditional use permit, which Springdale Farm is able to apply for because it is commercially zoned, would allow for many more events.

Critics said it would essentially turn the farm into an “event center” in the middle of a neighborhood, where alcohol, amplified sound and trash would be allowed less than 200 feet from a school and a church.

“They have just maneuvered through the cracks in the system,” Llanes told the Monitor. “Springdale Farm sells food for, like, $65 a plate. Who is that for? Not their neighbors.”

But Paula Foore, who has owned Springdale Farm since 1992 with her husband, said the urban farm has a history of giving back to the elementary school.

“The beautiful burrow planted in front of the school as a memorial, we planted 20 years ago,” she said. “Our turkeys have walked the school halls and lived in the atrium for Thanksgiving. The pre-K students this year have come three times to the farm.”

The farm also rents out the parking lot and employs off-duty AISD officers to patrol it for safety, Foore added. Joshua Jones, a neighbor who also does business with the farm, pointed out during his testimony that there is no history of arrests or citations issued at Springdale events.

Saldaña directed staff to set up a meeting between the two parties and AISD to see if they could review the parking arrangement.

Photo by radcliffe dacanay and made available through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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