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Developer offers extra parkland to speed construction

Friday, October 4, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Pioneer Crossing at 10930 Defender Trail is an old, undeveloped planned unit development that City Council approved in 1997. A history of foreclosures and bankruptcy has left the 1,410-acre parcel fragmented between various owners. Nevertheless, the site is still beholden to the original agreements that require 112.5 acres to be dedicated to parkland.

Despite 25 years of change, the Parks and Recreation Department has managed to receive most of its parkland easement. The only exception is a 49-acre parcel referred to as W23, which is owned by the ART Collection Inc., that the city is still waiting on.

While the city waits for the land, there is a hold on development.

Continental Homes of Texas, which owns the majority of the planned unit development land, offered to amend the PUD to grant an additional eight acres of its property to the parks department in exchange for a green light to begin developing the site.

The amendment that came before the Zoning and Platting Commission this past Tuesday was the 15th since the PUD had been approved. Commissioner Jim Duncan called the plan a “bouncing ball” and lamented this iterative approach to the overall process, saying that in the case of Pioneer Crossing, it doesn’t seem that the dozens of changes that have occurred are accurately reflected with each new presentation. Nor did he imagine that this request would be the last. “I would imagine by the time it’s built out we’re going to be at amendment 30,” he said.

Still, he did note that the amendment process is not only a chance for developers to renegotiate entitlements, but an opportunity for the city to ask for more community benefits and amenities. For this PUD amendment, he clarified that the city should be asking the developer to build a trail through the additional eight acres of green space they are dedicating. “We’re not building a natatorium. We’re not building a football stadium. We’re talking about a three-foot-wide trail,” he said.

Commissioner Nadia Barrera-Ramirez, a former program manager with the Urban Trails Program, pointed out that this section of land that the developer is looking to donate is part of the Urban Trails master plan area and could serve as the extension for the Walnut Creek Trail.

However, commissioners Hank Smith and Bruce Evans said it was stepping out of bounds for the commission to renegotiate a deal that city staff had made with the applicant.

“I don’t think we’re renegotiating. I think we’re assessing whether the negotiations were good enough,” said Commissioner Ann Denkler.

While Scott Grantham of the parks department pointed out that part of the PUD agreement requires the developer to construct a hike-and-bike system, there is no specific timeline or location for that buildout. Commissioners fretted that without a schedule, the developer could take decades to build the trail.

Instead of rolling the dice and waiting for the developers to build a trail in good faith, the commission voted 8-2 to recommend that Council approve the plan and require the construction of a hike-and-bike trail on the dedicated land. Commissioners Smith and Evans voted against the motion and Commissioner Eric Goff was absent.

As for the missing W23 parcel, “W23 is still desired parkland, is still part of the PUD, is still expected to be dedicated at some point,” Grantham said. “We will do everything it takes to get W23.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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