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Council OKs purchase of Wood Street parkland

Friday, October 30, 2020 by Jo Clifton

After a lengthy discussion about the rules regulating acquisition of city parkland, Council voted 7-2-2 on Thursday to purchase 0.214 acres of downtown property at 702 Wood St. Council members Jimmy Flannigan and Pio Renteria voted no, and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza abstained.

Renteria complained that the $1,174,250 price tag on the property was too high for such a small piece of land on Shoal Creek. Flannigan and Harper-Madison had numerous questions about whether the downtown property was being purchased in accordance with the city’s rules about use of parkland dedication funds. But both concluded that the parks department was working hard to follow the regulations.

Two specific aspects of the parcel make it attractive for park property, as Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley explained. First of all, under rules governing use of parkland dedication funds, the city must acquire parkland within one half-mile or less from the developments that paid the fees. If no such property can be found, PARD can look within two miles.

According to a memo from staff, “The developments whose fees would pay for this acquisition are within the service area defined by City Code and the Parkland Dedication Operating Procedures. This acquisition is the most suitable park purchase in those developments’ service area, approximately less than a mile from its location.”

Looking at the property from an equity standpoint, PARD noted that the land was previously a historic settlement, once home to an enclave of African Americans and later Mexican American settlers.

The Texas Historical Commission, which provided a marker for the property, noted, “as the frontier city’s natural Western boundary, Shoal Creek became a settling point for formerly enslaved people following the Civil War. The community along Shoal Creek was part of the African American settlements of West Austin which developed in the years after Reconstruction. As domestic servants, cooks, drivers, carpenters and laborers, residents influenced the lives and culture of Austin. Despite being surrounded by the homes of wealthier Anglos in the era of increasing racial prejudice, the African American community on Wood Street thrived into the 1920s.”

Shoal Creek Conservancy Executive Director Ivey Kaiser wrote Council a lengthy letter on Oct. 12 supporting acquisition of the property: “702 Wood Street is a unique and worthy candidate for acquisition in terms of its cultural heritage, its creekside location, and the opportunities it affords to improve safety and accessibility for trail users along this busy link in Austin’s growing trail network.”

The Shoal Creek Conservancy and supporters of hiking and biking along the city’s trails envision a seamless and connected pathway throughout the Shoal Creek corridor. The Wood Street property offers an important link along the trail. Kaiser wrote, “There is currently an informal entrance to the Shoal Creek Trail situated on a steep slope on the north side of the Sixth Street bridge, less than 450 feet from 702 Wood Street. This entrance is located on private property and is maintained by (the conservancy)” on a volunteer basis. Acquisition of the Wood Street parcel presents “the opportunity to create a fully accessible trailhead in the vicinity,” she wrote.

This was the second time the question of acquiring the property has come before Council. The matter was postponed earlier this month after Harper-Madison said she had numerous questions about the project. McNeeley produced a lengthy document in response to Council’s questions explaining the process for deciding which properties to purchase.

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