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Hyde Park neighborhood groups divided over future of Austin State Hospital

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

State leaders are considering selling the Austin State Hospital, a historic facility near the Hyde Park neighborhood, but residents are divided over the future of the site.

After construction was completed in 1861, the Austin State Hospital becaome the first facility in Texas established to care for the mentally ill. But now, state lawmakers are considering selling the land and relocating the hospital.

One group of neighbors is welcoming new development on the expansive property. Alejandro Puyana is a board member with a group called Friends of Hyde Park. The neighborhood association recently voted to encourage new development on the property near 41st and Guadalupe streets.

“I think a lot of neighbors in Hyde Park and across the city sort of agree with the fact that the city’s going through a housing crisis, and we need to really take every opportunity we can to add to the housing stock,” Puyana said.

The Friends of Hyde Park’s decision comes after another group, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, voted to preserve the hospital campus. That group wants any future development on the property to be restricted to public use and to require the input of local stakeholders.

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The facility is primarily a psychiatric hospital, but its campus has also come to serve as a popular recreational space. In the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan, neighbors cemented the hospital’s importance in preserving the area’s character. Today, the Austin State Hospital admits about 4,000 patients a year, serving 38 counties across Central Texas.

Still, Puyana feels the property is not being used to its full potential. The Friends of Hyde Park voted to support responsible new development while preserving or relocating facilities that provide mental health care.

“It serves a very vulnerable population, but it doesn’t serve it to its full potential,” Puyana said. “With new development in the ASH site, we could have a state-of-the-art new development built to serve those same people in those same numbers or even more, while still developing other parts of the site for housing, affordable housing, public green space.”

Ultimately, the decision is up to state lawmakers. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission heard public comment on the potential relocation in June. The agency plans to deliver a report to state lawmakers by September.

Photos by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. The Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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