On Thursday, April 5, Austin City Council passed a resolution that will require their approval for changes to the way Mabel Davis Park is used. The decision stems from community response to a proposed off-leash area (OLA) at the park.
Last year, the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department proposed new OLAs in several locations around the city, including Mabel Davis District Park in Southeast Austin. It held two meetings on the plan for area stakeholders. (See blog post from Nov. 19, 2011.)
The proposed plan was designed to create a fenced, 1.6-acre off-leash area that will include water fountains, agility equipment, shade structures, a separate area for small dogs, and a decomposed granite trail inside the perimeter of the fence.
On Feb. 28, the OLAs at both Mabel Davis and another park, Yett Creek Neighborhood Park, were approved during a hearing of the Austin Parks & Recreation Board. (See blog post from March 13, 2012.) The Burleson Heights and Burleson-Parker neighborhoods had been waiting for the next step in the process so that residents could participate, but although some residents had asked to be notified, they learned about the hearing after the fact. It had been posted on the online agenda of the Parks & Recreation Board.
Complicating matters was a redesign of the City of Austin website, which changed the URLs of all city departments, committees and boards early in 2012. Months into the redesign, searches yield uneven results, and many pages still have broken links and missing or out-of-date content (see an Austin Chronicle article on the redesign). There also is no link to the Web page for the Parks & Recreation Board from the Parks & Recreation Department or off-leash area pages.
After residents confirmed that the hearing was the city’s final approval for the OLA, three Burleson-Parker residents spoke during the Citizen Communication session at the March 22 City Council meeting to express dissatisfaction over the public process. (See video of the residents, who were the third, sixth and seventh speakers in the session. Citizen Communication came after Item 15.) Some area residents also had been communicating with Council members about the issue since late 2011.
Neighborhood residents are divided over the OLA in Mabel Davis Park, but most say that they would like to see a more transparent public process. Residents’ requests to the city currently include seeking more community feedback, such as a formal survey, and incorporating amenities requested by the community if the project moves forward.
Residents also want clarification of environmental issues surrounding the OLA, which is planned for the site of a former landfill that underwent a 5½-year, $10 million environmental cleanup to address contamination from pesticides and heavy metals. Some are concerned about how an increase in dog waste at the site would affect water quality in the adjacent spring-fed pond and Country Club Creek.
What happened April 5
Here’s the text of Item 55, which the Austin City Council approved on Thursday:
WHEREAS, the Austin Parks and Recreation Board approved a recommendation for the Director to move forward with design of two new off leash areas at Mabel Davis Park and Yett Creek Neighborhood Park at their meeting on February 28, 2012; and
WHEREAS, the City of Austin has conducted two public meetings to obtain feedback from citizens and stakeholders prior to the Austin Parks and Recreation Board recommendation; and
WHEREAS, public outreach efforts have not yielded a consensus of community support for the proposed change of use for these neighborhood parks; and
WHEREAS, presenting plans to Council would provide another opportunity for citizen input and allow Council to weigh in on the policy direction that is being proposed;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF AUSTIN: The City Manager is directed to present to Council for approval plans for any change in existing use for Mabel Davis Park and Yett Creek Neighborhood Park.
Representatives of the Burleson Heights/Burleson-Parker neighborhoods and of the Parks and Recreation Department will meet at 7 p.m. on April 10.