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Project Catalyst and Country Club Creek Trail: An ‘inopportune’ overlap

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

At the same meeting of the Environmental Commission where citizens aired their concerns about the Northern Walnut Creek Trail, commissioners had questions about the Country Club Creek Trail off of Riverside Drive.

Commissioners wanted to know how plans for the Country Club Creek Trail could be impacted by the controversial 97-acre development known as Project Catalyst. Project developers are working in tandem with the East Riverside Corridor Master Plan to extend Lakeshore Boulevard through 11,000 square feet of Guerrero Park along the hike-and-bike trail in order to handle more traffic and improve neighborhood connectivity.

Country Club Creek Trail will also connect to the Ann and Roy Butler Trail in the same area. Current designs show it following Wickersham Lane from Riverside Drive to Elmont Drive along the east side of the proposed Project Catalyst development site.

Chair Linda Guerrero noted at the April 3 meeting of the Environmental Commission that if the trail project already has funding and a known development project is on the way, common sense would dictate that city staff would put the project on hold until they could coordinate with the developer.

According to Urban Trails Program manager Janae Spence, staff purposefully chose to construct a trail on the existing roadway near what is now apartment complexes because they wanted to be able to provide a protected trail for cyclists and pedestrians while the developers are still in negotiation. She explained that the trail could easily be removed and reinstalled when the new right of way is constructed through the park.

“Going back and redoing this is what we don’t want to happen,” said Guerrero, noting that redoing a trail would cause more environmental harm in the long run.

Staff explained that the northern portion of the trail around Riverside Drive and Wickersham Lane is already under construction. “We just started construction on this last week,” said Ana Seivert, a project coordinator with Urban Trails.

This one-mile portion of the trail (funded through the 2016 Mobility Bond) will have a two-way bike lane that runs for half a mile.

Carolynn Calabrese, a communication specialist with Urban Trails, told the Austin Monitor it remains uncertain whether the trail will have to be reconstructed when Project Catalyst becomes a reality. “While we are excited to continue working with the developer on possible future enhanced trails through this area, nothing has been finalized or guaranteed. Not only are we unsure of what will actually be approved and built, but also when,” she told the Monitor in an email.

Michael Whellan, the agent for the developer, confirmed that the site is at least two years away from the first phase of redevelopment, including the city-required extension of Lakeshore Boulevard. Nevertheless, he told the Monitor that he and the developers are aware of the trail and that “the owner is committed to working with the city’s Urban Trails program representatives and other stakeholders to ensure that best practices regarding erosion control are employed as the Country Club Creek Trail is completed through the property.”

With many years before the potential conflict arises, Urban Trails explained to the Monitor and to the commission that while the city waits, it is important for residents to have immediate access to a high-quality trail to keep them safe.

Editor’s Note: A sentence in this story has been updated since publication to give the correct length of the bike lane.

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