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Monday, July 23, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Questions on finances, floodwater remain after stadium info session

Thursday’s information session at the Central Library offered those on both sides of the prospect of building a soccer stadium on city property in North Austin a chance to air their opinions, without producing much clarifying information on how the city and Precourt Sports Ventures might execute a partnership.

The meeting, which drew about 100 people, came as city officials and the owners of the Columbus Crew  professional soccer team are engaged in negotiations on a possible deal to use the 24 acres known as McKalla Place as the stadium site. While it was billed as an information session, city staff early on made it clear that the intent of the gathering was for stakeholders to give their thoughts on the “community benefits” they’d like to see included in the deal, which City Council is expected to consider at its Aug. 9 meeting.

That means those with questions about the site are still waiting and wondering how things will play out, with concerns accruing about the rainfall and flooding impact on surrounding areas and the financial trade-offs of building a stadium instead of more traditional commercial development.

The rainwater runoff question was voiced twice last week by local environmentalist Craig Nazor, at a meeting about the city’s pending new flood plain maps that could alter regulations on large developments in areas that impact headwaters of local creeks, as is the case with McKalla Place and Little Walnut Creek.

Staff from the city’s Watershed Protection Department said there is currently no building permit for the stadium, which would start the environmental review to determine the drainage infrastructure and retention pond needed there, and that any application under existing rules would need to be submitted before October, when City Council is expected to adopt the new flood plain data and corresponding building codes.

Nazor said environmental considerations need to be included in the city’s negotiating process to avoid excessive runoff that could lead to flooding along the creek.

“Right now we have no clue how much of that land they’ll need to use for a detention pond, and it has to be right-sized so there’s not a change upward in the amount of runoff from your property,” he said. “If they go forward with this now then Council can ignore any environmental recommendations because there will be huge pressure to do that and move it forward. At that point it becomes a horrendous battle.”

Another point of concern comes from local attorney Bill Aleshire – who has already threatened legal action if the city enters into an agreement with Precourt – over the lack of a fiscal note from the city manager’s office breaking down the property tax and other financial implications of a stadium deal at McKalla. It is possible an analysis of alternative development proposals for the property that are being accepted until the end of next week could include that information, but Aleshire said Council members should have had those data already.

“As a matter of law and common sense, if Council is ready to make some other use of the McKalla property, they must open that up to competitive bids,” Aleshire said by email. “They should have a fiscal note that gives an honest answer as to the alternative fiscal impact on the city’s (and other taxing entities’) budget (revenue and expenditures) of giving this public property away for a soccer stadium versus offering it for taxable, private multi-use development.”

Neighbors near McKalla Place said they’re also waiting for a response from Council members and city staff on a list of more than 100 questions about the stadium project. Those questions cover subjects included in the city’s broad list of goals for the project such as employment, volunteerism, quality of life, traffic management and affordable housing.

Francoise Luca, president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association, said she and others left the Thursday session unsatisfied, with some opponents starting to draw up petition language that would seek a referendum vote on any deal the city reaches with PSV.

Luca said she’d hoped Thursday’s meeting would focus more on specific deal points in city negotiations, such as property tax requirements for PSV to use the property.

“The meeting was glorified citizen communication, and the public engagement process on this has been flawed from the get-go because there’s not been enough time to ask and get answers on important questions,” she said. “I would love a session that was about deal points. In my community I have lots of seniors saying not even their grandkids will be able to take part in the youth programs they’re talking about, but they’re going to have to pay the taxes to prepare the site if that’s the way it goes. It doesn’t seem like there’s lots of things in there that are a benefit to anyone other than the team.”

Photo by Andy Witchger made available through a Creative Commons license.

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