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City moves forward on major park in Onion Creek area

Monday, March 20, 2017 by Jack Craver

The city is trying to make the best out of a bad situation by turning flood-ravaged land near Onion Creek into one of Austin’s premier open spaces.

Earlier this month, City Council approved a resolution to begin the process of rezoning roughly 99 acres of formerly residential property that the city, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had purchased from homeowners as part of a long-term flood-mitigation effort.

The resolution also calls for the rezoning of two adjacent properties that will combine with the buyout area to form approximately 700 acres of public parkland. For context: That’s nearly twice the size of Zilker Park.

One of the properties is a 400-acre parcel south of Onion Creek that is referred to as Onion Creek Metropolitan Park. Although it was purchased years ago by the city, the parks department has yet to develop it due to lack of funding. The third parcel is the 200-acre Onion Creek Greenbelt.

“It complements everything that we’re doing because it’s adjacent to our greenbelt,” explained Ricardo Soliz, division manager at the Parks and Recreation Department. “The public is going to see nothing but recreational pieces on all three. All of that becomes a wonderful all-green parkland area.”

Soliz said he hopes the city is able to begin the first phase of developing the metro park by next spring. The department has $2.5 million set aside to fund a 30-acre irrigated field, a 50-space parking lot and trails (including picnic tables) to connect to the greenbelt and the buyout area.

Meanwhile, Soliz said he expects the Army Corps of Engineers to begin developing the buyout area in the same timeframe. Its plan includes 32 sheltered picnic tables and a major pavilion with a restroom and a 25-space parking lot. The corps will also do work to repair the area along the creek and prevent future erosion.

A master plan approved for the metro park in 2015 envisions more amenities further in the future, such as additional playing fields and restrooms. However, the department only has funding available for phase one, Soliz said.

The three parcels are coming together to fulfill a longtime goal to create a park of the caliber of Zilker, Roy G. Guerrero, Walnut Creek and Circle C Ranch.

“This is going to be a destination park,” he said. “We wanted a metro park in Southeast Austin. That’s why we purchased the metro park in the early 2000s but just never had the dollars for it.”

The resolution was sponsored by Council Member Delia Garza, in whose district the properties are located. She could not be reached for comment on Friday or over the weekend.

Revenue raised through the special taxing district created as part of the Goodnight Ranch planned unit development will fund maintenance and operations of the metro park (but not the greenbelt or buyout land), while the city will pay for the capital improvements.

When the parks department purchases property in the future, said Soliz, it will ask Council to rezone the property immediately, even if it doesn’t have immediate plans to begin construction of the park.

Now that Council has approved the resolution to initiate the rezoning the properties, the issue will go before the Zoning and Platting Commission for a recommendation, before coming back to Council for final approval.

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Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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