The Austin Parks and Recreation Board approved new off leash areas (OLAs) at Mabel Davis Park and Yett Creek Park at their meeting on Feb. 28.
Ordinarily when a city board or commission votes on a project, it makes a recommendation, and the issue goes to City Council for final approval. However, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) has authority over OLAs, so the projects have now moved into the design phase.
The proposed OLA at Mabel Davis Park is part of a larger effort to create more OLAs around Austin, especially in areas near apartments where there are few places for dogs and owners to exercise and play off-leash outside. Only two of the city’s 11 OLAs are east of Interstate 35.
Residents of the Burleson Heights and Burleson-Parker neighborhoods are divided on the proposed OLA in Mabel Davis. Most of the 50-acre park consists of open grassland and small wooded areas, and a loop trail winds past a spring-fed pond and two forks of Country Club Creek. Amenities are limited to a small area on the west side of the park and include a skate park, a playground, a basketball court, a picnic shelter and a pool that is open only in the summer.
Those who support the OLA tend to be dog owners or residents who want to bring more users into a park where there are few amenities, and therefore enhance security. For example, several charging stations for electric vehicles that were installed at the park in the past few months have already been vandalized.
Those who oppose the OLA tend to be people who would prefer another kind of amenity there or who cite environmental and water-quality concerns. Topping the list of environmental issues: PARD has a tight budget and relies on volunteer efforts to clean up dog waste, which has caused water contamination in other parks; the spring that forms the headwaters of the Country Club Creek watershed is about 100 feet downhill of the proposed OLA; and Mabel Davis Park sits on the site of a former landfill contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides.
Many residents on both sides of the dog park issue have said that PARD did not take adequate steps to inform area stakeholders about its plans to put in an OLA or about its subsequent meetings and hearings. Burleson-area residents were not notified about the Parks Board hearing, and the only citizen who spoke at the hearing discussed the Yett Creek Park OLA. There was no citizen or board discussion of the Mabel Davis Park OLA at the hearing.
Some area residents intend to speak at the City Council meeting at noon on March 22 to discuss their concerns about the OLA and the way this public process has been handled. Residents also can e-mail City Council members via the city website.
Park’s past limits what it can be in future
In deciding what kinds of amenities to put in Mabel Davis Park, PARD is very limited. A $10 million, 5½-year environmental cleanup of the contaminated site placed a clay cap over the old landfill, which is not allowed to be irrigated, disturbed or penetrated with fence posts or other structures. No athletic fields are allowed now.
The proposed OLA would occupy the site of a former baseball diamond that was one of the most contaminated areas discovered in the remediation project. Preliminary designs call for covering the soil in geotextile fabric sandwiched between layers of sand and mulch to keep the cap over the old landfilll from being compromised. The 1.6-acre OLA would be fenced, but no structures would penetrate the ground.
The first seven pages of the support documents from the hearing include diagrams of the proposed design and the site of the former landfill, a list of past meetings, public comments and other information.
To learn more about the park’s history, the remediation project and the proposed OLA, see this Nov. 19, 2011, blog.
Learn more at the links below: