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Future of 64 Rainey remains unknown

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The future use of a small city-owned plot of land butting up against the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center is no closer to being known.

Members of City Council’s Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee heard from neighbors and a local developer last week about a proposal recommended by the MACC Advisory Board to turn the unofficial parking lot into a small park, or “pocket park.” The proposal comes after nearly two years during which the land was used as a construction staging of discussion about the site.

Under the proposal, Sackman Enterprises, the developer of 70 Rainey St., would pitch in roughly $400,000 for design and construction of the park as well as the parkland dedication fees.

“(This) helps to convert a vacant parking lot into the pocket park recommended by the public in November 2012,” said David Carroll, chair of the MACC Advisory Board. “And this will all be paid by the developer at no cost to the taxpayer. Nothing is being given up, nothing is being sold, there’s no transaction or change of ownership.”

Nonetheless, because the item was listed only as a briefing on the committee’s agenda, the committee had no ability to recommend or discourage the proposal – a fact that may have effectively nullified it. C.J. Sackman of Sackman Enterprises told committee members that he needed action from them because of a strict construction timeline. He said he planned to break ground on the luxury apartment building at 70 Rainey St. on Oct. 1 and needed to submit building permits no later than mid-August.

“I’d like to go back to your last comment about no action being taken today,” Sackman told Council Member Leslie Pool. “If that is the case, then there will be no collaboration between the MACC community, the RNA (Rainey Neighbors Association) and the RBC (Rainey Business Coalition) because we would be unable to discuss the park because of the permitting timeline.”

Howard Lazarus, director of the Public Works Department, chided Sackman on his request for committee action. “It’s never a good thing,” said Lazarus, “to come to any council body or subcommittee of it with a very short time frame. … Unfortunately, in this case, we are where we are.”

Despite the potential death of a proposal to bring parkland to Rainey Street, a part of town characterized by exponential growth and development, many members of the neighborhood bucked the MACC Advisory Board’s recommendation, saying that 64 Rainey St. needed to be incorporated into the ESB-MACC Master Plan.

Then, residents said, it could be used as part of the build-out as the cultural center enters the last two phases of its three-part master plan. Council Member Don Zimmerman asked members of the MACC why they needed 64 Rainey under their direction.

“We’re trying to rectify an oversight,” said Valerie Menard, president of the Center for Mexican-American Cultural Arts. “We didn’t realize that it was a vulnerable piece of land until there was a developer, previous to the Sackman Enterprises, that wanted to put a multi-level parking garage on there and block out our MACC and also affect the entrance to the MACC.”

Pool and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo encouraged developers to continue negotiating with the MACC and neighbors on Rainey Street, and to put another item on the committee’s agenda, if need be.

“I believe having certainty on what can and cannot happen on that tract of land is extremely important to the community,” said Tovo. “Wherever I’m watching from in five or 10 years, I don’t want to see this tract be a source of discussion again (nor) that there be any question about whether or not it’s going to be used as a parking garage or any other private interest rather than as an extension of the MACC.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin website.

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