WEST AUSTIN NEIGHBORHOOD GROUP
Brackenridge Tract Position Statement (August 25, 2008)
Having heard from stakeholders through public testimony, surveys and numerous meetings since the University of Texas System announced that it would consider redevelopment of the Brackenridge Tract, the 345 acre tract of land located in the heart of Tarrytown and West Austin, the West Austin Neighborhood Group Executive Committee advocates the following position:
Any potential redevelopment of the Brackenridge Tract:
- Must preserve its invaluable urban greenspace and its remarkable trees;
- Must preserve waterfront land and recognize the City of Austin’s Waterfront Overlay;
- Should not increase traffic in the Tarrytown and Deep Eddy neighborhoods; (If additional traffic volumes are generated as a result of redevelopment, such traffic should be directed away from our existing residential neighborhoods. There should be no street access to such redevelopment along Enfield Road between Lake Austin Boulevard and Exposition Boulevard that would promote the use of adjacent and nearby neighborhood streets as arteries.)
- Should comply with all City of Austin codes and ordinances as well as its zoning and land use regulations; and
- Should be limited to and not exceed the parameters established by the 1989 Brackenridge Tract Development Agreement negotiated in good faith by the University of Texas Systems, the City of Austin and the Austin community.
- The Lions Municipal Golf Course (141.38 Acres) should remain an affordable, public golf course in perpetuity with consideration made for the addition of non-golfing recreational opportunities on site. We actively support the acquisition of this tract by the City of Austin utilizing any available means including cash and non-cash alternatives.
- The West Austin Youth Association Tract (14.56 Acres) should remain under the control of this nationally recognized, privately funded, non-profit organization that provides positive recreational opportunities through 30 separate programs for more than 4,000 youngsters annually from throughout Austin.
- The University of Texas at Austin Brackenridge Field Laboratory (81.97 Acres) should remain at its current unique and irreplaceable location.
- The Colorado Apartment and Brackenridge Apartment Tracts (74.24 Acres) should be redeveloped to include denser graduate student, doctoral candidate and faculty housing as well as neighborhood retail/neighborhood mixed use development, the latter at a level and in a manner that does not exceed the terms of the 1989 Brackenridge Tract Development Agreement for non-university purposes.
- The Deep Eddy Tract (16.42 Acres) that includes the Gables Apartments, CVS Pharmacy and 7 Eleven, if chosen to be redeveloped, should be redeveloped in such a way as to maximize the protection of the Deep Eddy neighborhood adjacent by mitigating the potential for related cut-through traffic and overflow parking. Further, any new construction should transition away from the residential portion of the adjacent neighborhood.
- The Boat Town Tract (2.58 Acres) including Oyster Landing should remain unchanged.
- The Park Street Tract (13.21 Acres) that includes the LCRA and ancillary surface parking should remain unchanged, unless sufficient free public parking remains on site to meet the parking demand of the Boat Town Tract as well as any additional development.
- The Randall’s Tract (2.64 Acres) should remain under its current land use though reconfiguration of the site itself might be beneficial.
- Any potential redevelopment of the Lions, Park Street or WAYA tracts should be compatible along Enfield Road with the adjacent Tarrytown neighborhood.
Background and Comment
The West Austin Neighborhood Group has taken a very active role in this process over the two years since the Board of Regents announced their intention to reevaluate the Tract’s status. The Regents are under pressure from some in the public sector to make better use of their vast assets, one of which that just happens to be the Brackenridge Tract. They also are being approached by those in the private sector who seek monetary gain from the redevelopment of the Brackenridge Tract. We feel strongly that any opportunity on this Tract, for University purpose or private gain, should be weighed against any adverse impact that it might have on West Austin and its citizens.
Colonel Brackenridge gave the University this Tract “for the purpose of advancing and promoting University education.” We realize that the Brackenridge Tract, as a whole, represents a significant opportunity for both the University of Texas and the community, but that opportunity does not lie solely in its purported development potential.
Brackenridge Field Laboratory
One of the University’s most highly acclaimed and nationally ranked programs is tied to the Brackenridge Field Labs. The unique character and proximity of this tract as well as the established research history cannot be replicated elsewhere. The facility currently is underutilized and accessibility to and facilities for the public is poor. To address this deficiency, advocates for the College of Natural Sciences have begun the process of planning for a biodiversity institute as well as public facilities that would engage and interact with the public and other educational institutions. Furthermore, such an institute might deliver research that could generate ample revenue for the University of Texas to further its mission.
Graduate Student Housing
The reputation of colleges and universities are dependent on the reputation and work of graduate students and doctoral candidates. Graduate student housing is an attractor for these top tier students. Most highly ranked peer universities have such housing. This environment cannot be replicated with voucher programs, which notably can be changed or eliminated thus offering no assurances to these students. Neither can the proximity to campus, the strong sense of community nor many of the amenities enjoyed by this unique, diverse and highly educated population. Further, meeting a need for affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable city, these apartments are critical to the advancement of the mission of the University of Texas to be a world class university.
It is worth noting that the University does receive rental income from these properties, the difference in pricing when compared to market rents being that there is neither a land component nor a real property tax component in the calculation of rental rates. For the West Austin community, the primary benefit of student housing is that these students are inclined to take public transportation thus minimizing the negative impact of additional traffic and congestion on our residential streets.
Lions Municipal Golf Course (Muny) and West Austin Youth Association (WAYA)
Consistently, we have advocated for the preservation of both Muny and WAYA. Both of these facilities provide unique recreational opportunities for University students, faculty, staff and their families as well as the Austin community as a whole. Our recent survey showed overwhelming support among users and non-users of both Muny and WAYA to preserve these two facilities.
In simple terms, the current uses for both tracts are not economically the highest and best use. However, both stand as irreplaceable community assets.
Historic Lions Municipal Golf Course is the only public 18 hole golf course west of Interstate Highway 35. It is affordable thus providing access to folks throughout the community, including the University community. It is inclusionary rather than exclusionary, as some private schemes would be. It is very heavily used and does generate fee income for the University of Texas System. Muny is also a unique urban greenspace, something that is highly valued by Austinites and that is an attractor for people and businesses wanting to invest in Austin.
WAYA serves over 4,000 youngsters throughout Austin each year enriching their lives and that of their families by providing safe, engaging, and structured recreational opportunities. Furthermore, WAYA has tapped in to the University of Texas as a resource for its primary teaching mission. The value of WAYA can’t be measured in dollars and its impact can’t be quantified. Lessons learned and benefits gained by participating children will simply continue to resonate throughout our community.
Traffic & Congestion
Any redevelopment of any part of the Brackenridge Tract and its viability are going to be limited by traffic issues. The Tract is bounded by 2 east-west neighborhood arteries in Enfield Road and Lake Austin Boulevard and 1 north-south neighborhood artery in Exposition Boulevard. At times during the day, these three streets already are impassable. The two key points of ingress/egress to the Tract with MoPac/Loop 1 are at Enfield Road and at Lake Austin Boulevard TxDOT has no plans at this time and to the best of our knowledge has committed no resources, nor has any resources available, to the redesign and reconstruct these intersections. Cost estimates casually range from $50 million to $150 million. It is not feasible to consider the reconstruction of these interchanges, and as a result, the scale of any redevelopment should be limited to the existing arterial capacity. Furthermore, cut-through traffic and overflow parking, as a result of redevelopment, into the adjacent residential neighborhoods is unacceptable as it denigrates our neighbors’ quality of life, safety and security.
Most of the land in the Tract lies within either the Lake Austin Watershed or the Town Lake Watershed and is within our Drinking Water Protection Zone. Degradation of same is adverse to the environment as the well being of the citizens of Austin and those downstream from Austin. Even within the framework of the 1989 Brackenridge Tract Development Agreement, adverse consequences could be expected because impervious cover would exceed the 30% allowable in the suburban watershed under municipal codes.
The University of Texas is one of the wealthiest educational institutions in America. It and the University of Texas System have millions of acres of land and a $25 billion endowment. The UT System recently approved the forward sale of $1 billion in oil and gas revenues. In Travis County alone, they own hundreds of parcels with an aggregate land value exceeding $1 billion. Many of these parcels are underutilized. Some parcels are being held for investment purposes. Despite declining State support for higher education, which we strongly oppose, the University and the System have ample assets at their disposal without the need to destroy these community assets and adversely impact one of the City’s most cherished residential neighborhoods.
In regard to the possible establishment of a medical school in Austin, Interim University of Texas Chancellor Kenneth Shine was recently quoted as saying, “A lot of it depends on the ability of the community to come up with resources as opposed to going to the state or other places.” “Support would be needed from hospital systems, the health district, the business community, philanthropists and potentially the City of Austin and Travis County,” he added. While the benefits of such an institution could be significant and desirous for Austin, such assistance to the University should come with a price.
In addition to the millions and millions of dollars already generously given to the University of Texas by the people of Austin and for filling up its stadiums year after year, perhaps it is time that the University of Texas and the University of Texas System gave back to the citizens of Austin for all we have done for them. Preservation of Muny and WAYA in perpetuity and the sensitive redevelopment of the remainder of the Tract to meet the terms of Colonel Brackenridge’s gift befit a university of the first class where what happens “changes the world.”