Monday, December 14, 2015 by Vicky Garza

Changes to park renaming rules advance

It may soon be harder to name a park or facility in Austin after a person. At the Tuesday meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, members voted 6-0 to recommend a draft ordinance that adds restrictions to rules regarding the naming of parks and facilities. The draft ordinance restricts both what they can be named and who they can be named after. It also adds a fee to help cover the cost of changing the name of a park or facility.

The vote followed a presentation by park development coordinator Greg Montes. He explained why the rules should be rewritten, outlined the Parks and Recreation Department’s recommendations and went over the draft ordinance, which had previously been presented to the Land, Facilities and Programs Committee at its Oct. 13 meeting and then reviewed by the Law Department.

Current rules make the naming process difficult for the board because there is no limit on applications, which means there are often a number of competing applications, Montes said. There is also no requirement of proof that the community supports a naming recommendation. Additionally, he said, the department has to cover all the costs involved in the process, including those for new signs, which are not cheap.

The department’s recommendations include limiting the types of facilities that can be named and recognizing valuable contributions to facilities with plaques instead of renaming them. “This opens up more opportunities to recognize individuals who gave to the park,” said Board Chair Jane Rivera.

Further, Montes recommended prohibiting naming anything after living individuals, with the exception of someone who has made a significant land donation and has promised to pay maintenance costs for 20 years and 50 percent of development costs.

Board Member Alison Alter, who is also on the board’s Land, Facilities and Programs Committee, said that there is a section at the end of the draft ordinance that would allow City Council to make changes to those rules, such as making one of the requirements optional.

Montes said that the draft ordinance also requires gauging community support for a proposed name and adds an application fee to help cover administrative costs and the installation of a new sign.

The discussion started back in March, when the Land, Facilities and Programs Committee recommended that city staff review naming codes used by other departments or cities. The recommendation was prompted by a growing number of requests to name or rename parks and led to the parks board asking Council to put a hold on such requests until the board could write clear guidelines for the process.

The draft ordinance is now headed to Council’s Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee. If it passes there, Montes expects it to go before Council for a vote in February.

Representatives from Austin Water and Public Works also presented at Tuesday’s meeting to inform the board about a reclaimed water line project that will affect many high-profile downtown parks, including Butler Metropolitan Park, Vic Mathias Shores, Shoal Beach, Republic Square Park and Duncan Neighborhood Park. Work on the project is expected to start in the spring. Most parks will be affected only for a month or two as the pipe is run through the park, with the exception of Duncan, which will be used as the staging area for 390 days.

Board Member Mark Vane said he appreciates the notification and hopes they will continue to keep stakeholders notified if any slowdowns come up. “It’s an inconvenience to block the parks, but we understand it’s something we have to do,” he said.

Commissioners Michael Casias, Rick Cofer, Tom Donovan, Francoise Luca and Birger “Alex” Schmitz were absent from the meeting.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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