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Zilker Park could soon see new ADA-compliant restroom

Monday, February 6, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

At its Feb. 1 meeting, the Environmental Commission approved staff recommendation to grant an amendment and a variance to city code that would allow an additional restroom facility to be built inside Zilker Park.

Gary Gregson, the program coordinator from the Parks and Recreation Department, said that the facility would help accommodate growing traffic to the park from festivals and events as well as provide Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access to park visitors.

Tom Curran, the project engineer with Doucet & Chan, explained that the parking lot adjacent to the proposed restroom location would be thinned by 10-15 feet to offset the new impervious cover created by the 900-square-foot facility. As for water treatment, Curran said that the proposal was to construct a 10-foot-wide curb cut to redirect water off the nearby street into a vegetative filter strip.

“There’s no trees being removed?” asked Commissioner Hank Smith.

“We would just be installing the vegetative hedges, so no excavation would be taking place,” Curran responded.

In terms of design, project architect Mac Ragsdale said that the goal was for the new facility to fit into its iconic surroundings. “(The bathroom is) a stone’s throw from Barton Springs and right next to Zilker Hillside Theater,” he said.

The design would include a roof with impressions of sycamore, oak and maple leaves, native granite walls and even a dog fountain.

“I’m wondering why the city chose to put (a new facility) there instead of remodeling the (existing) bathhouse?” Commissioner Mary Ann Neely asked.

Gregson said that the bathhouse is in the process of being remodeled but that even with renovations it would not be able to provide the accessibility that a new facility would. “Given its historic nature, to make those restrooms ADA-compliant would be a difficult task,” he said.

Commissioner Linda Guerrero remarked on the bathroom’s gender binary of men’s and women’s. “Nothing in between?” she asked, drawing laughter from the commission.

Ragsdale said that when the design was originally conceived three years ago, discussion around bathrooms and gender had not been as much of an issue. “It’s become more of an issue,” he said.

“You might want to consider that a little bit more,” Guerrero said. “Or not.”

“I’ll have to take my direction from the city,” Ragsdale responded.

In 2014, City Council passed an ordinance that requires Austin businesses to post gender-neutral signs on single-occupancy restrooms. Last month, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst filed a bill that, if passed as written, would overrule that ordinance and allow Texas businesses to enforce their own bathroom policies and, moreover, require public institutions to forbid transgender individuals from entering bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Gregson said that the request had already been approved by several city commissions, including the Parks and Recreation Board, the Historic Landmark Commission and the Planning Commission. He added that, as part of the project, there will be a net reduction in impervious cover as well as water-quality treatments.

Smith made a motion to approve the staff recommendation, seconded by Commissioner Andrew Creel. The vote passed unanimously. Commission Chair Marisa Perales and Commissioner Pam Thompson were absent.

This story has been changed since publication to expand Commissioner Linda Guerrero’s quote. Rendering of the new facility courtesy of the city of Austin.

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