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Reporter’s Notebook: Two Apples, one day

Monday, December 16, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Update on Oakwood… A Dec. 13 memo from Austin Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley gives an update to the Oakwood Cemetery archaeological findings, with “next steps for the reinterment, memorialization and educational outreach related to burials that were discovered beneath the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel during its rehabilitation.” In 2016, construction at the chapel was halted when human remains were found. The chapel had been constructed in 1914 in a section known as the “Historic Colored Grounds.” An exhumation process was completed in 2017, with reinterment of the burials in Oakwood expected to take place early next year. According to the memo, the parks department will then initiate a commemoration process that is still being planned.

According to the memo, the process “may include but is not limited to”:

• Ceremony to honor the individuals who were rediscovered and reinterred in Oakwood Cemetery. At the same time, PARD will dedicate of a permanent memorial that explains the exhumation and reinterment process and honors the individuals who were rediscovered in this process.

• An educational symposium to allow for further exploration of the cultural context of the people who have been re-discovered and reinterred. The symposium will allow community members to hear from expert archeological professionals to provide context for the report and allow for community conversations about the findings.

A digital exhibit at Oakwood Chapel that interprets the archeological findings.

An interpretive plan and signage for the “Historic Colored Grounds” as recommended in the Historic Cemeteries Master Plan. The archeological report will help inform the opportunities to better honor and interpret this historically significant section of the cemetery.

Meanwhile, the process has caught the attention and ire of local activist and archaeologist Fred McGhee, who described on his blog the renovations and process as a “burgeoning scandal” and alleges the project has been mismanaged and includes the approval of a new sewage line through some of the graves. McGhee asks that the remains be identified and reiterates a request for the city to hire an in-house archaeologist.

Criteria criteria… As the Land Development Code continues on its journey toward approval, the Planning Commission asked that Council consider integrating more oversight into the approval process for criteria manuals. Criteria manuals are the technical documents that guide city code interpretations and specify the requirements established in the land code, like the Drainage Criteria Manual. Commissioner Conor Kenny said at the Dec. 10 meeting of the Planning Commission that, as it stands, city staff will develop drafts, allow for the public to comment on them and then adjust accordingly before the final approval. “They don’t go to Council, there’s no formal vote on them,” he said. Commissioner Awais Azhar explained, “Folks felt like this was not a transparent process.” To increase the level of transparency, the commission voted unanimously to encourage Council to include a review from the commission in the final approval process. Although the commission requested additional input to the process, they emphasized it would be a review and not a rewrite that they would contribute. Otherwise, Kenny said, “That’s a pretty crazy workload.”

We like trees too!… Following the lead of the Environmental Commission, Animal Advisory Commissioner Craig Nazor suggested at the commission’s Dec. 9 meeting asking Apple to reevaluate its plans to save the trees at its new campus. Like us, you might wonder how the Animal Advisory Commission is related to site plans, and the answer is, animal habitat. “When you cut down all those big trees, you get rid of a lot of wildlife habitat,” Nazor pointed out. The Animal Advisory Commission agreed that the removal of 1,500 trees poses a threat to native wildlife in the area and unanimously voted to ask Apple to provide $100,000 to Austin Wildlife Rescue. A similar request was made by the Environmental Commission in its resolution earlier this month. Nazor acknowledged that Apple is not obliged to make any changes to its current development plans. “They don’t have to do anything about this, this is just a wish.” Commissioners Nancy Nemer, Isabel Mier and Monica Frenden were absent.

This article has been modified since publication to expand on McGhee’s complaints. This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Elizabeth Pagano and Jessi Devenyns.

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