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On second try, parks board OKs land use for Dove Springs health center

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

A public health center requested by residents of the Dove Springs area for nearly a decade was given an OK by the city’s Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday, setting up the use of 2.6 acres of parkland to hold the facility.

The 8-1-1 vote, in which Francoise Luca voted against and Nina Rinaldi abstained, came roughly two weeks after the board delayed approval of the recommendation to City Council, which will take up the matter at its Sept. 19 meeting. Since last month’s meeting, the Parks and Recreation Department recalculated the amount of mitigation dollars that will be set aside to purchase replacement parkland in the area, with the $388,000 amount more than double what was previously proposed.

The final resolution recommends Council ask staff to move forward with requisitioning a section of Dove Springs District Park for the $12 million, 23,000-square-foot health center. The resolution also asks that the money for parkland purchase be used specifically in Dove Springs; that an advisory board be formed to oversee the property’s development and advocate for the center; and that the board be briefed on the center’s site plan before it reaches the 60 percent completion threshold.

The center has been a priority for city and community leaders for years, with voters in November approving $16 million in bond funding to bring long-needed preventive health care, child care and other services to the area. The center is expected to open in 2023.

Public Works Department staff said last month’s decision to delay the approval could add months to the opening date, as it could hold up the design/build procurement process that was used in an attempt to streamline the site development.

The initial delay came from concerns over the mitigation funding amount, possibly of setting a precedent for using parkland as a sort of release valve for capital needs, and questions over the preliminary site design, including the amount of proposed parking.

Community members who spoke were unanimously in favor of swapping some parkland to offer more health care services to the fast-growing but still underserved area.

“We met as a community, we voted as a community and the community says let’s put it there. We understand you look at parkland, and that we’re going to lose a little bit, but we’re going to gain so much more,” said George Morales, president of the Dove Springs Recreation Advisory Board. “Our population went from 19,000 people when I was a kid to 63,000 in the Dove Springs community. This center is what we need as a community.”

Board Member Rich DePalma, who raised the initial questions about the mitigation amount, said the delivery schedule and cost per square foot is greater than what’s expected for new schools currently under construction around the city. He said staffers need to push for better planning and performance on similar projects.

While he still had questions over the method used to calculate mitigation funding, he had seen enough progress to support the measure.

“The issue for me was the mitigation dollars because they didn’t look correct, and they weren’t, and that’s what we found out and it’s adding an additional $207,000 to parkland mitigation for District 2,” he said. “I feel comfortable there will be a net increase in parkland, though it might not be of the same high-and-dry-land quality outside of the flood plain. We’re very defensive of parkland and I’m proud of that because that is an asset that belongs to the public.”

Board Member Anna Di Carlo, who lives in District 2, said her discussions with residents showed strong support for using parkland to bring the center to the area.

“I knew going in that they had reassessed the mitigation dollars, which was a big concern from other board members. The board was definitely put between a rock and a hard place with wanting to preserve the parkland, especially in the area I represent in District 2, and I also know the need for a health facility in the area,” she said. “What solved it for me was the amount of the mitigation dollars and including in our recommendation that that be used to purchase more parkland in the Dove Springs area specifically.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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