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Council approves condemnation of Bull Creek property

Thursday, July 30, 2020 by Jo Clifton

With the exception of Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who was off the virtual dais, Council unanimously approved filing eminent domain proceedings to acquire what the city describes as the final piece of property needed to complete the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt from Loop 360 to Canyon Vista Middle School.

The property owner, David Kahn, opposes the city’s purchase of his property, saying he would grant the city an easement for the trail. He had planned to build a boutique hotel on the land at 6315 Spicewood Springs Road. He contends that the property is worth considerably more than the $4.5 million the city proposes to pay him for the 11-acre tract.

A number of neighbors and environmentalists spoke up in favor of the purchase at Wednesday’s meeting.

Kahn said he would only build on 6 percent of the land, but Julie Range told Council that since “the vast majority of his property sits within the floodplain,” Kahn would not be able to develop more than that. Range noted that Kahn’s plans include a septic system because the city would not extend water and wastewater to the property. “His septic system will sit within yards of the floodplain,” she said, “and this risks sewage spills and environmental calamity.”

Like others, Range said the city would be much better off owning the property than accepting the easement Kahn was offering.

Bobby Levinski, an attorney representing environmental groups including the SOS Alliance, Sierra Club and Save Barton Creek Association, told Council the site is located entirely within the critical water quality zone and the water quality transition zone. He said, “I’ve been tracking this property for several years and we had a pretty scary moment during the last legislative session,” when House Bill 3750 “threatened to take over the city’s control of water quality regulations on the site.” He said only a last-minute “procedural miracle by Rep. (Erin) Zwiener killed the bill.”

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said she appreciated all of the people who called in support of purchasing the property. However, she hastened to add, “We need beautiful spaces throughout our city,” including for people who may not have a vehicle to be able to get to that part of town.

The property is within District 10, represented by Council Member Alison Alter, who made the motion to move forward with the eminent domain proceedings. In addition, Alter said she wanted to ask staff to “explore alternate sources of funding beyond parks bonds.” According to backup material on the item, the Parks and Recreation Department proposes to pay for the property with parkland dedication fees as well as funds approved in the 2018 bond election.

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