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Naming Parks: The struggle continues

Monday, September 21, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

A park’s namesake must be dead.

Members of the Land, Facilities and Programs Committee discussed this and other new stipulations as part of a first look Wednesday at a naming ordinance for Austin parks and recreation buildings. After more than an hour of debate, though, proposed rules were sent back to Parks and Recreation Department staff for more consideration.

“The plan was to go to Parks Board this month, but we may need to sit back down with you guys,” Gregory Montes, a planner with the Parks Department, told the committee.

Ex-officio committee member and Parks Board Chair Jane Rivera recounted the emotional battle that she said boards, commissions and City Council have to endure when choosing a name for a park or recreation facility – especially when the applicant feels strongly about the name they’re submitting.

“How can we do anything other than name it after all of them?” Rivera said.

The new ordinance proposed by staff outlines several requirements: The chosen name would have to be a person who has been dead for at least two years, an applicant would have to demonstrate community support and the city could name only facilities and parks – not features within these, such as a room or a fountain.

Ricardo Soliz, a manager with the Planning and Development Department, brought up the example of Butler Park. In 2007, the city received more than 100 suggestions for what to rename sections of the then-Butler Civic Center. Council took action on the item in 2008, sprinkling various names among different park features.

“That’s why we ended up with a hill, a playground, the name of the park,” said Soliz. Council members voted on April 10, 2008, to name the new 21-acre park Butler Park, a fountain in the park Liz Carpenter Fountain, a children’s garden in the area Alliance Children’s Garden and more – essentially carving up the various features of the outdoor area to accommodate and make happy more than just one applicant.

Committee members Wednesday welcomed restricting names to only parks or buildings, though when it came to other proposed rules, they cautioned staff about being overprescriptive.

Staff decided that applicants should have to demonstrate community support before a name would be considered. Staff suggested a hyperlocal approach to this; for example, to name a 10-acre park, an applicant would need to collect signatures from 75 percent of those who own property within a half-mile radius of the park. Committee Chair Mark Vane and Member Alison Alter expressed concerns about these requirements.

“If we tie location to everything, we may have problems,” said Vane. He argued that there may be a park or a facility used by homeowners outside of the radius measurement requiring signatures – and so these stakeholders should still be included in the naming process.

Because members had numerous edits to the draft ordinance, staff said it would take the next few weeks to redraft it – including eliminating the radius requirement and adding some language about memorial walls, which would allow more people to be acknowledged without having to compete for the name of the park. A new ordinance will come back to the committee next month for approval before heading to the Parks Board.

Photo by Jack Dorsey made available through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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