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Zimmerman, Troxclair resurrect failed proposal for civil courthouse

Friday, November 13, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Two Austin City Council members are renewing an effort to persuade Travis County to build a new civil courthouse in the so-called “Eastern Crescent.”

The day after voters narrowly rejected the county’s $287 million bond to build the facility in downtown Austin, Council Member Don Zimmerman posted to the City Council Message Board a modified version of a proposed resolution he had unsuccessfully attempted to float past his colleagues before the election.

Zimmerman’s general thrust remains the same: He wants City Manager Marc Ott to identify city-owned land in low-opportunity areas generally east of I-35 that could potentially be home to a new county courthouse.

However, there are several notable differences between this proposal and the one that preceded it. The earlier version – which died a quick death in Council’s Audit and Finance Committee in September – specifically mentioned the area around Walter E. Long Lake as a possible location. The new version omits that suggestion, which drew derision from supporters of the bond who were quick to point out the dearth of public transit options in that area.

Also new this time around is a second component that states that “if the City desires a new Austin Municipal Court building the next decade, the City will consider a Travis County/Austin City joint courthouse complex.”

Zimmerman’s new resolution would also impose a deadline of Feb. 25, 2016, for Ott to report back to Council.

On Monday, Council Member Ellen Troxclair voiced her support for the proposal. On the Message Board, she wrote, “Considering locations outside of the downtown core would be one way to minimize costs to taxpayers, and I would like to co-sponsor this resolution in order to continue the conversation.”

Troxclair added that the courthouse question “speaks directly to economic development” and pledged to add it to the Dec. 14 agenda of the Economic Opportunity Committee that she chairs.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Austin Monitor on Thursday that she is planning to be at the meeting to answer any questions that Council members have. She also reiterated that the county owns plenty of property east of the interstate and that planners, after exhaustively analyzing each parcel, concluded that none were optimal sites for a courthouse.

“The probability that the city of Austin has a piece of property for a courthouse is exceedingly low,” Eckhardt said. “So I think this is really more about Mr. Zimmerman’s politics than it is about a genuine desire to see a collaboration between the city and the county. But my door is completely open on real collaboration.”

FILE – Council Member Don Zimmerman and Travis County Taxpayers Union member Bill Worsham are shown in the Oct. 14, 2015, file photo. Zimmerman helped Worsham announce in front of Austin City Hall the TCTU’s formal opposition to Travis County’s proposed $287 million Civil & Family Courts Complex bond. (Caleb Pritchard)

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