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Catholic school cites safety concerns for fence; BoA thinks fence will cause more

Tuesday, March 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Most people would agree that when it comes to schools, safety is sacrosanct. In today’s climate, parents, educators and the community alike may consider a campus that is wide open to public access to be, at the least, worrisome. Under city code, however, not all schools are treated equally. Private schools are required to provide a connection from the property to public streets and trails, whereas public schools are not.

This inequity came into question at the March 11 meeting of the Board of Adjustment. Dave Anderson, director of land use at the Drenner Group, brought forward a variance request on behalf of the Diocese of Austin against providing direct pedestrian access from Neenah Avenue to the private grounds of North Central Catholic School.

“We just don’t see this as safe,” explained Anderson. The current plan shows a path that extends for several hundred feet sandwiched between two fences, one of which is dilapidated. According to Anderson, the path exhibits evidence of vandalism and has beer cans strewn about. The area is currently not barricaded and students are able to access it.

“If the motivation was security, it would have already been fenced off,” noted Board Member Eric Goff.

Anderson acknowledged that he would prefer to see a gate at the boundary of the facility, but code prevents the school from erecting one.

This tightly fenced alleyway solution came about because of a disagreement on the location of a neighborhood trail. When the school was built in 2008, the trail that was to provide public connectivity was intended to go off into the neighborhood through a vacant lot. However, the Pearson Place neighborhood homeowners association no longer wishes to have that point of connectivity, according to Anderson.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne agreed that having a public access path pass through an undeveloped but visible tract of land was preferable to funneling children around a blind corner. She suggested that the school “knock on the door a little harder,” to try to reinstate the original agreement for a path in that location.

The fenced-in passage was also a concern for nearby homeowners as it would pass behind a row of homes. “That’s very easy to jump that fence,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen. “Most robbery and home intrusions come from the backside.”

With multiple safety and security concerns surrounding the proposed connectivity solution, the Board of Adjustment voted 6-5 to postpone the case to the next meeting to give time for the Diocese of Austin to speak with the neighboring HOA and try to negotiate a preferable solution. Board members William Burkhardt, Eric Goff, Bryan King, Veronica Rivera and James Valadez voted against the motion and Board members Rahm McDaniel, Christopher Covo and Brooke Bailey were absent.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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