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Council OKs site for new Dougherty Arts Center

Friday, May 21, 2021 by Jo Clifton

City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve a site for the Dougherty Arts Center, close to the current ZACH Theatre at Butler Shores Park. The site, called 1A, was not city staffers’ first choice, but it was clear that staffers’ selection, 1B, had too many opponents, including the Save Our Springs Alliance.

District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen led the charge against staffers’ preferred option, which would have taken up considerably more parkland than the alternative. SOS attorney Bobby Levinski and SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch both urged Council to select the site farthest away from the hike and bike trail.

As Levinski noted in a letter to Council, “As much as Austin likes to market itself as a green oasis, we have a serious parkland deficiency. We simply do not have enough parkland to serve our expanding population.” He said a recent index showed that Austin ranked 37th among the largest American cities in meeting parkland needs for its residents. “With this perspective in mind, it is baffling to us that the city is – yet again – considering converting several acres of prime parkland along Lady Bird Lake into buildings and driveways for an art center, along with a parking garage to accommodate more single-family automobiles.”

SOS emailed its members earlier this week alerting them to the upcoming vote and asking them to contact their Council members and the mayor. Kitchen said her office had received about 300 emails on the subject.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Board and the Environmental Commission both passed resolutions expressing their concern about the 1B option because it would have taken up too much parkland. The Barton Place Condo HOA also wrote to tell Council its members supported option 1A.

Friends of the Dougherty Arts Center, on the other hand, wrote two letters, the first of which did not say which site it preferred. The second letter said that staffers’ preferred option “best addresses the variety of traffic/parking concerns expressed in past meetings by stakeholders.”

Environmentalist Roy Waley also addressed Council about the matter, urging them not to use any parkland at all. He suggested repurposing some currently underused Austin Independent School District buildings.

Kitchen said the scenario she chose preserves more green space and avoids additional impervious cover on parkland.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley recognized the need to change staffers’ position, telling Council that option 1A was just fine with them.

Kitchen’s motion included direction to ensure that the new arts center would maximize green space, allow for future expansion plans, establish Riverside Drive as the primary public ingress and egress, and address challenges for parents picking up and dropping off their kids.

Staffers were directed to do a traffic impact analysis, with the goal of reducing single-occupancy vehicular traffic on the narrow Toomey Road. The analysis, Kitchen said, should acknowledge heavy bike and pedestrian use along that road.

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