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Owner resists city plans for eminent domain to complete Bull Creek Greenbelt

Wednesday, July 29, 2020 by Jo Clifton

David Kahn, the owner of 11-plus acres of scenic property along Bull Creek in Northwest Austin, will be calling in today to oppose a proposed City Council decision to file eminent domain proceedings to acquire the land to complete the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt. Neighborhood advocates are expected to support the purchase, while people who philosophically object to the purchase may also call in to oppose the plan.

Alex Gale, the city’s real estate officer, said his predecessor, Junie Plummer, told him the city had been interested in purchasing the property since the 1980s. The Parks and Recreation Department proposes to pay for the property with parkland dedication fees and funds approved in the 2018 bond election. According to a staff report, the department has the money in its current budget.

Council approved the acquisition in the department’s long-range plan, Our Parks, Our Future. The general route of the project is northwest of Loop 360 and south of Spicewood Springs, completing the greenbelt from Loop 360 to Canyon Vista Middle School.

Kahn told the Austin Monitor he bought the land in 2014 for $2.6 million. He said he has spent an additional $1 million putting together plans to put a 57-room boutique hotel on the property, which is outside of Austin city limits but in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and subject to watershed protection regulations.

The city proposes to pay Kahn $4.5 million for the property, which he says is now worth more than twice that. If the city moves forward with eminent domain, a three-judge panel will decide the value of the property.

Kahn argues that the city is wasting its money buying the property when he has offered to build and maintain a publicly accessible trail on the land at no charge to the city. Of course, his offer is unlikely to stand if the city does not ultimately approve his plans for the hotel.

According to Chris Herrington, the city’s environmental officer, most of the property is within the water quality transition zone of Bull Creek, which supplies part of the city’s drinking water. Kahn presented a site plan that would have required a variance because it called for more impervious cover than is allowed in the transition zone. In order to get that much impervious cover, Kahn would need permission from one of the city’s land use commissions.

In addition, Kahn requested water and wastewater service from the city. The Environmental Commission recommended against the service extension, but it never went to Council and is no longer necessary. Kahn decided to do on-site wastewater treatment with drip irrigation, which is permitted by Travis County.

“I didn’t buy this land to make a lot of money on the development,” Kahn stated in a press release. “I bought this property to fulfill a dream of creating a unique Spicewood Lodge experience for people to fully immerse themselves and enjoy some of the most beautiful land in Central Texas.” Kahn, who operates as 6315 Spicewood LP, a Texas limited partnership, envisions his hotel as emulating lodges found in national parks. He is particularly trying to appeal to Council members representing the east side, saying that the money proposed for the Bull Creek Greenbelt would be better spent in East Austin.

Richard Brimer, a former president of the Bull Creek Foundation, told the Austin Monitor that people who enjoy walking along the trail and swimming in Bull Creek are concerned about the negative impact a hotel might have on the surrounding environment. In addition to concerns about pollution to Bull Creek, Brimer and his neighbors are worried about additional flood risks as a result of the proposed hotel. Brimer said he has made his views known to Council but he expects his neighbors will let Council know about their support for acquiring the property.

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