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Springdale Farm loses event fight

Friday, June 12, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The question of how an urban farm should be used got heated at a meeting of the Planning Commission on Tuesday when a motion to grant a conditional use permit for outdoor entertainment and off-site parking at East Austin’s Springdale Farm failed.

Owners of the 5-acre farm at 755 Springdale Road sought a permit allowing 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 have sound amplifiers. The permit also would have allowed off-site parking, in the form of a memorandum with the Austin Independent School District, which would let visitors to the farm park at the district’s former Allan Elementary School.

Commissioner and Chair Danette Chimenti, who voted against the permit, summed up neighbors’ concerns. “I live close to South Congress, so I understand what it’s like when your quality of life is difficult because of outdoor amplified noise, parking issues, trash, all of those things,” said Chimenti. “I live that nightmare.”

This “nightmare” was described by neighbors in video testimonials presented by Daniel Llanes, a member of People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER).

One woman, who identified herself as a mother of three young boys, said she feels like she lives near an event center rather than an urban farm. “I don’t like the fact that when we go on bike roads or walks we see trash or people parking that disrupts our street,” she said. “It has become difficult for my kids, for my boys, to settle down at night.”

Bill Aleshire with Riggs Aleshire & Ray, P.C., represented PODER, saying that only a neighborhood like East Austin would have to struggle with encroaching noise and events.

“The applicant asked for too many events with too many people to be compatible with residential neighbors,” said Aleshire. “I ask you, where else in Austin would outdoor entertainment be allowed so often and so close to homes? I am really concerned that in this largely Hispanic neighborhood this is allowed. It reminds me of Austin’s really nasty past on the way it treats people of color.”

Michele Lynch with Metcalfe Wolff Stuart and Williams, LLP represented the farm’s owners, Paula Foore and Glen Foore. She said the economic advantage of being permitted to host more than the six events an Urban Farm designation allows is essential.

“The outdoor uses keep the farm viable,” Lynch said. “We do still have support from many neighbors and many others in the farm and restaurant industry. … We actually asked them not to come tonight because you’ve heard what they’ve had to say and I think you understand that they are vehemently in support of this project.”

Instead, a crowd of East Austin residents gathered in Council chambers boisterously opposing the permit, in one instance requiring Commissioner James Nortey to demand from the dais, “Please, I ask you to be respectful.”

When it came to a decision from the commission, it could not muster the five votes needed for a quorum from the nine-member group (only five members were present). While commissioners cast a vote of 3-2 in favor of granting the permit, the motion failed. Commissioners Brian Roark, Nortey and Richard Hatfield voted in favor of the permit.

Nortey’s argument that the farmers had conceded plenty to the wishes of the neighbors drew hisses from the crowd.

“The neighborhood has brought very substantial concerns about their quality of life, to which this commission and the Council worked during the zoning phase to try to work out a compromise position,” he said. “This farm has bent over backwards in trying to find a winning scenario.”

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