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Visions of Zilker Park split over parking

Tuesday, June 18, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

After months of meetings beginning in September of last year, the Zilker Park Working Group was not able to reach a consensus on recommendations for the Polo Fields and Butler Landfill, two areas currently used for overflow parking.

According to an introductory statement to the Zilker Working Park Group’s Final Report, which was posted online Friday, the 38-member group’s goal of consensus was “exhaustively attempted” yet finally unmet.

Bobby Levinski, group member and attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance, released a statement earlier this month describing the major point of disagreement as a question of economics vs. environmental preservation.

About half of the group favored economic development and pushed to increase parking capacity, while the other half highlighted environmental issues and sought to reduce parking, Levinski explained.

The economic argument, he said, was led by representatives of Austin City Limits and Zilker Botanical Gardens, who hoped to secure more pavement for a staging area and access to over 500 parking spaces to accommodate large events, respectively. The environmental side, where Levinski falls, aimed to restore both the Polo Fields and Stratford Field (above the buried landfill) as public green spaces free of parking.

In lieu of a common vision, the group held a vote on primary recommendations for each area while allowing members to submit individual statements explaining their objections and recommendations. Both primary recommendations gained 11 of 17 votes at the group’s final meeting at the end of May.

The winning recommendations for the Polo Fields, which now holds around 1,000 non-paved overflow parking spaces, outline a gradual reduction of parking capacity at the site as other parking accommodations or transportation arrangements are created to meet demand. The suggested plan involves a 30 percent reduction by May 2020, 60 percent by May 2021 and closing the parking area in May 2022.

Similarly, the popular option for Stratford Field allows for the continued use of the rock surface for parking and staging until the end of the Zilker Park Master Plan process without any specification of future use for the site.

In a personal statement, Bruce Wiland of the Zilker Neighborhood Association said that while he was willing to allow the rock surface to remain until after the 2019 ACL music festival, he could not vote for its preservation through the master plan process, which he predicted could last for several years. As neither parking nor staging are permitted uses for the site, the rock surface should be removed as soon as possible, he said.

Wiland also warned against the “parking lot swap” solution denounced by several group members that would accomplish the reduction in parking at Polo Fields by adding more capacity at Stratford Field. He was concerned that vague language from the report could be construed to justify such a move if sufficient off-site parking isn’t found.

In contrast to the Butler Landfill and Polo Fields subgroups, the Short-Term Traffic Solutions subgroup released its portion of the report in April with a set of unanimously approved recommendations on ways to improve access to and from the park. As a result, the city is now working with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority on a plan to increase summer weekend bus frequency to the park and add a shuttle service pilot for the Fourth of July weekend.

In his letter, Levinski said those recommendations could be sufficient to mitigate traffic and overflow parking issues without taking away from or adding to the 500-plus paved parking spaces already available.

“The default solution to build more parking whenever demand increases needed to end with the 20th century,” he said. “It’s time that the city of Austin practice what it preaches and solve this problem without more pavement.”

Photo by Spawnzilla [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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