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Proposed ‘Statesman’ PUD draws criticism

Friday, September 17, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board will be deciding in less than two weeks whether to recommend approval of the Statesman planned unit development from a parks perspective. It could prove to be a difficult decision. Parks planner Scott Grantham told board members at Tuesday’s meeting that he wasn’t sure if they would have enough information to make a decision by Sept. 28, the date the board is scheduled to vote on their recommendation. Atha Phillips, the city’s environmental program coordinator, echoed his statements.

When developer Endeavor Real Estate Group started working on the former Austin American-Statesman site at 305 S. Congress more than two years ago, it had no way of knowing it would not be any further along by the end of 2021.

The recommendation from the parks board, as well as a recommendation from the city’s Environmental Commission, will go to the Planning Commission, which ultimately decides whether to recommend the PUD to City Council. Because of its location on Lady Bird Lake and the trail along the lake, a recommendation from the parks board may carry more weight than it typically would.

Both the Parks and Recreation Department and the Watershed Protection Department have asked Endeavor for multiple changes to its plans, though it’s not clear which if any of those requests the developer will honor.

Phillips told the board Endeavor proposes to develop portions of the critical water quality zone and floodplain. She said the developer proposes an impervious cover cap of 24.5 percent within the CWQZ, well above the 5 percent the city’s environmental code allows, and also higher than the 15 percent the waterfront overlay allows.

Staff members understand the need for a public viewing area and more programming on the west side of the park, she said. They propose to exchange more development on the west side in return for restoring the east side to a more natural state.

One big problem is that Endeavor’s proposed restrictions on dedicated parkland will not allow a design necessary to achieve the city’s environmental goals, Phillips noted.

On the eastern part of the property the trail is too close to the shoreline and is causing further erosion, according to Phillips. She proposed that the trail be moved a minimum of 25 feet away from the shoreline in these areas. Just across the street from the development, Auditorium Shores is providing a good model of restoration, she pointed out.

Grantham was concerned about the details of the applicant’s commitment to deeding over parkland to the city. He said it was not clear exactly when the parkland dedication might occur, but it needed to be at the beginning of construction.

He said there needs to be a special focus on the bat viewing area, the most important feature for many people. It’s also important to make sure that the public has access that is suitable for those with disabilities.

Laura Cottam Sajbel, a member of the parks board who serves on the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board, expressed concern that the many people who have been working over the years to make sure the site is a spectacular park for everyone will be disappointed.

Grantham stressed that the developers must provide a superior project in order to be eligible for PUD zoning. Endeavor did not send a representative to address the parks board this week.

Clarification: After publication of this story, Richard Suttle, who represents Endeavor, told the Austin Monitor no one at the company had been notified about the meeting.

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