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Friday, May 27, 2016 by Vicky Garza

Parks board weighs in on Shoal Creek PUD

After more than three hours of presentations and testimony, the Parks and Recreation Board decided to send the message that the amount and quality of open space planned for The Grove at Shoal Creek Planned Unit Development is not to their satisfaction.

There was a lot of confusion during the meeting, starting with the fact that the process of having the parks board review a PUD is virtually unprecedented. However, Council Member Leslie Pool had requested that the board review the open space and community amenities components of the application and decide whether they meet superior standards for parkland, which led to another point of confusion.

With the application on its way to Zoning and Platting Commission and Environmental Commission, the board said the development did not meet those superior standards in a vote of 6-1-1, with Board Member Michael Casias opposed and Board Member Alex Schmitz abstaining.

Board Member Alison Alter stressed the opportunity the board had to weigh in on the parks plan.

“This is ultimately a negotiation,” said Alter. “I have worked with the developer, I have seen what the staff has done. There has been no movement on parks for many, many moons and one way to get that is to send a signal that the parks board says that parks matter for PUDs and we are going to, at the very least, take the power that is in our possession, which is to communicate to Council our advice, and our advice is to stand by the staff.”

At the meeting, Parks and Recreation Department staff had to explain what constitutes superior park standards. That definition is changing, since a parkland dedication ordinance with a new set of standards was approved by City Council in January. However, the Grove at Shoal Creek PUD is grandfathered in under the old ordinance from 2007 because the preliminary plan was submitted before the new standards went into effect.

Randy Scott, park development coordinator, presented the department’s assessment, which calculated that the 75-acre property will have 16.88 acres of parkland, which includes a signature park, a neighborhood park, a greenbelt area, a plaza with recreation and two acres of flex space, a first for a PUD application.

However, the developer only received credit for 12.88 acres once land in the floodplains and critical water quality zones, as well as land containing critical environmental features, were factored in.

Staff concluded that the developer’s plans are not superior to traditional zoning, and they laid out some guidelines that they could follow to become superior, including providing parkland at 10 percent above the required land dedication, or 14.17 acres. Developers could also improve their rating if they placed the two acres of flex space, as well as an additional three acres, in the signature park to provide more street frontage and usable play space away from residences. The parks department would also like the developers to remove the residential uses around the neighborhood park to make the park more public, allow additional recreational uses and continue to include at least $750 per unit on park development.

The developer has already agreed to build a trail that connects the development to the Shoal Creek Greenbelt at Jefferson Street, south of the development.

Jeff Howard, who is the attorney for the developer, shared his concern that this is an unusual step and outside the normal zoning process. “There is no code mechanism (for the board) to review PUDs,” said Howard. “This could set an adverse precedent.” He asked the board not to take any action tonight.

Howard maintained that the development was superior. He said they have more than the 11.35 acres of parkland required for 1,335 units and that they have pledged over $1 million in park improvements. Howard also asked the board to keep in mind that while “98 percent of urban core projects meet requirements through fee-in-lieu,” they’re not asking that.

About 25 residents attended the meeting, many of them donating their time to speak to Grayson Cox, vice president of Bull Creek Road Coalition.

“The presentation from the developer is very pretty, but unfortunately, it is not binding or part of the PUD application,” said Cox.

His main issue has to do with the actual number of residents. The developer is leaving out independent seniors and people who will live in affordable housing on the PUD, which he said makes the total closer to 6,000 people living in a neighborhood that has been identified as park deficient.

“It’s not shown in number or code, but I try to think in reality … There’s no way to look at it and say there’s enough parkland on this site,” said Cox, who added, “it’s disingenuous to say they are giving us a nice park” because they can’t develop most of that area anyway.

“People don’t want Domain-type development. We want open lawn space, trails, a dog park.”

His final concern was flood mitigation. “Drainage is a huge issue on this site. People have lost their lives from this site from previous floods,” Cox said.

BCRC President Sara Speights was concerned about the children and seniors.

“There are no yards for kids to play in. The only place they are going to have to play is whatever open space we can come up with. Either that or they’re going to be in retail stores,” she said.

The plan includes a 600-person congregate care facility, she said, and about 75 percent are independently retired senior citizens that drive cars and will want to walk around the property.

Ranleigh Hirsh, the Allendale representative for BCRC and a Certified Texas Master Naturalist, is concerned about the large trees on the property, which she said could die if their roots are cut or constrained.

“This new development will do some serious scraping of the earth,” she said.

She also wondered where people will walk their dogs if they can’t access most of the signature park because of environmental concerns.

“64 percent of Americans own dogs. People will be bringing 700 to 900 dogs with them,” she said.

Ted Siff, president of the Shoal Creek Conservancy Board, spoke in support of the PUD because developers are offering $1 million in parkland improvements and are offering to pay for park operation and maintenance.

“At the conservancy, we chose to apply the existing ordinance and, by that standard, this is superior,” he said.

Rendering courtesy of The Grove at Shoal Creek

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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.

Planned Unit Development: A zoning classification designated by the city to allow greater flexibility for projects within its boundaries.

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