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Stratford Lane Redevelopment Project area

Environmental Commission has questions about Zilker Park’s proposed parking lot

Friday, June 8, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

After the Parks and Recreation Board deferred the Zilker Park Stratford Drive Landfill Redevelopment Project to the Environmental Commission for review hoping for some clarity as to environmental repercussions, the waters only muddied further.

Concerns about leaching, automotive abuse of the landfill’s clay cap, lack of green space, and the location of the proposed parking lot caused the Environmental Commission to wonder what questions needed to be asked that were not yet apparent. So, after two hours of discussion at their June 6 meeting, commissioners requested for the project to be brought back to their next meeting to give them time to compile a list of inquiries that they hope will allow them to make a recommendation on the project.

One major question revolved around the definition of “temporary.” With thousands of pounds of gravel proposed to be dumped over 7 acres, Commissioner Wendy Gordon wondered, “If we’re taking interim measures, does that preclude or make more difficult reinstating some of these things (that were there before)?”

Scott Smiley, the consultant on the project from the Atkins engineering firm, explained that even though the project is temporary, it will be constructed to have a long life span. “We know that the stone will stay there forever until we pick it up. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, it would be wise to put a little more stone on top of it,” he said.

Although some commissioners thought this project seemingly splashed onto the radar, Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak assured the commission that this project did not just appear out of the blue. According to him, the Watershed Protection Department has for years discussed how to handle this area’s continued use as a staging area. “The Parks Department hasn’t been working on their own,” he said.

In fact, the Parks and Recreation Department is very much not alone in this initiative. The project will be funded by C3 Presents, the production company that puts on the Austin City Limits Festival. It is donating $1.7 million to the Austin Parks Foundation, who is then working in tandem with the parks department to shore up this staging area/overflow parking lot. However, several members of the public who spoke at the meeting theorized that the festival was the cause of the current state of the lot.

The Austin City Limits Festival has been using this area since 2003, and it is since that year that vegetation has struggled to grow on the property. Reynaldo Hernandez, a project manager with the parks department, explained that if you look at photos from 2003 to present, “the condition in terms of vegetative cover … hasn’t really changed much.” He suggested that this inability to grow green space is the reason that a parking lot is necessary.

Kimberly McNeeley, the acting parks department director, noted that similar environmental problems are fast approaching at the nearby Polo Fields area, which is currently used for overflow parking. She expressed her opinion that the Stratford redevelopment is not an ideal plan – she would like to perform a transportation study and design a master plan for the park but said there was no funding to do so. However, she said, “We also have an immediate issue that we are trying to resolve day in and day out.”

The commissioners recognized the need for parking in Zilker. Commissioner Hank Smith noted, “I think more parking is needed. I do think this is an appropriate use.” Several of the commissioners suggested remediating the entire landfill by excavating it and replacing the 40-foot canyon with an underground parking garage. Chair Linda Guerrero requested McNeeley get financial figures on how much a project of that magnitude would cost.

Commissioner Katie Coyne asked, “If this is a degrading landfill, I’m wondering why we want to continue to use this for a heavy-use area.”

Despite the commission’s misgivings about exclusively considering a parking lot for the space, Hernandez said that a parking lot is one of the few viable options for this area. “Obviously we cannot disturb the clay cap, and no building structure can be (built),” he said. Lesniak, however, argued, “If you do it right, there aren’t many things you can’t do on top of a landfill.” He cited examples of apartments and office buildings on top of decommissioned landfills.

Although there was no consensus among the commissioners as to what direction they should make their recommendation, Commissioner Andrew Creel said, “What I liked is you’re trying to move the needle in the right direction … I do recognize that you are trying to kill multiple birds with one stone – crushed gravel.”

Phasing plan courtesy of the city of Austin.

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