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Council appears divided over Grove PUD

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 by Jack Craver

City Council on Thursday will finally begin its deliberations on the Grove at Shoal Creek, a controversial planned unit development proposed for a vacant 75-acre lot at the corner of Bull Creek Road and 45th Street.

In anticipation of hours of testimony from members of the public both for and against the project, Council members agreed during a Tuesday work session to allow those who can make it to City Hall during the day on Thursday to testify at 2 p.m. After a certain amount of time, however, Council will likely return to other business and then go back to testimony on the Grove later in the evening, at 6 p.m.

The Tuesday conversation did not reveal much as to how the proposed project will ultimately fare when put to a vote.

If this Council’s history of dealing with controversial developments is any guide, the Grove could be opposed by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Ora Houston, all of whom have strong ties to neighborhood associations. Pool has particularly strong ties to those opposed to the proposal; she is a former, founding member of the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which is the leading opponent of the development as currently proposed.

Indeed, on Tuesday both Tovo and Pool reiterated their skepticism toward the project, including the amount of affordable housing on site and the $8 million in fee waivers that the developer will receive.

But while the other seven members of Council have generally been friendlier to new development, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Delia Garza both signaled during the meeting that they were unsure about the current proposal, and Garza hinted that she wanted to see more affordable housing as part of the development.

Garza also suggested she would be willing to approve the PUD on first reading, but based on the understanding that there would be further negotiation with the developer over housing and traffic mitigation.

Council Member Don Zimmerman noted that Council might want to coordinate with Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who has been taking time off since having a baby two weeks ago, to see if she would be able to participate in the vote.

“It’s a very important issue, and the vote could be very close,” he said.

A dozen Austinites sent a letter on Tuesday requesting that Pool recuse herself from the case because of her home’s proximity to the site and her involvement in the BCRC.

“It is reasonable … that a large development might have an impact on this property that you own, including on its value,” read the letter, which noted that Tovo had recused herself from a number of cases throughout her tenure on Council that were near properties she owns throughout the city.

Pool issued a strong rebuke in a statement to the Austin Monitor, saying she had consulted with the city attorney on the issue and that there are no legal grounds for her to recuse.

“I was elected to represent and fight for my district,” she said. “This was an issue on my last campaign, and one of the reasons I was elected was to fight for the neighborhood’s vision for the Grove.”

She also argued that the letter amounted to the group “acknowledging the negative impact that the Grove development, as currently construed, will have on the neighborhood.”

Finally, Pool linked the letter to the campaign of Natalie Gauldin, who is challenging Pool in the election for District 7 this fall. It is Gauldin, who is a vocal supporter of the Grove proposal, who is running for personal benefit, argued Pool.

“(M)y opponent had no civic involvement until she decided to fight for the developers because she thought it would be neat to have this development near where she lives,” she said.

Reached for comment, Gauldin responded that Pool’s assertion was untrue.

“I’ve attended neighborhood meetings for the past five years,” she said. “She must not have been there and not seen me.”

This story has been corrected. The original version mistakenly attributed the letter sent to Pool to AURA. In fact, the request came from Jeb Boyt, Roger Cauvin, Eric Goff, Roger Borgelt, Scott Gross, Nada Lulic, Hope Doty, Tom Myer, Dan Keshet, Sean Compton, Susan Kittleson and Evan Gill.

Photo by Katy Prairie Conservancy

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