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Council barely OKs eminent domain for U.S. 290 expansion

Monday, April 12, 2021 by Jo Clifton

With just six members voting in the affirmative last Thursday, City Council authorized staff to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to purchase new right of way in order to move wastewater lines that are in the path of the expansion of U.S. Highway 290, or the Oak Hill Parkway.

Council members Mackenzie Kelly, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo voted no, while Council Member Ann Kitchen abstained. Council Members  Greg Casar was not on the virtual dais and so did not participate in the vote.

Bobby Levinski, an attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance and a member of board of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, asked Council not to approve the items – at least until the question of whether a Texas Department of Transportation contractor will put a concrete batch plant at the Austin Community College campus is settled.

Oak Hill residents, who have been fighting the highway expansion for years, learned recently that Austin Community College is negotiating with TxDOT’s contractor to use ACC’s Pinnacle campus to store equipment and locate the batch plant downwind of Oak Hill neighborhoods. There is considerable confusion about whether the ACC board authorized its chancellor to allow the batch plant at that location.

Levinski told Council members, “These eminent domain items will not stop the expansion of the highway. That’s not the point of me speaking on them. Sometimes when life gives you lemons you’ve got to make a lemon drop martini and that’s what I’m trying to do here today,” he said. “The reason I’m speaking on these items is to daylight imminent environmental concerns that we are being faced with in the Oak Hill community.”

But Real Estate Officer Alex Gale told Council that the city was facing a deadline because of an interlocal agreement with TxDOT. Austin Water Assistant Director Shea Roalson said during Tuesday’s work session that the city wants to move its wastewater lines from their current location because the right of way is crowded and the city needs its own right of way.

The properties are generally along State Highway 71 from Silvermine to U.S. 290 at Circle Drive. Gale said staffers would continue to work with the landowners to try to reach an agreement, but if that proves impossible they will file condemnation proceedings and schedule an eminent domain hearing.

Rendering of the Oak Hill Parkway courtesy of TxDOTThis story has been changed since publication to reflect that, after a reconsideration, Council Member Leslie Pool voted against the items. 

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