How much will taxpayers pay for golf in West Austin?

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My latest column in Austin Monthly touches on Lions Municipal Golf Course. I’d love it if you read the entire column (maybe even kick it old school and buy the actual magazine on your next grocery run), but if you’re scared of leaving the comforting cyber confines of AustinPolitics.NET, here are a couple key excerpts:

A large contingent of people are outraged at the prospect of Muny becoming anything but a golf course. They shouldn’t be.

What that 141-acre tract of land has provided me in the form of outdoor leisure is a great thing. But it could probably provide even greater things for far more people if it were used as something other than a golf course. Housing, for instance.

….

“Save Muny” argues that the course must be preserved because of its unique place in history as the first course in the former Confederacy to desegregate. The story goes that 9-year-old Alvin Propps, a black caddie, played a round before being stopped by police officers in either 1950 or 1951. Mayor Taylor Glass, after talking the issue over with some City Council members, said to let the kid play. The council then canceled plans to build a separate course for African Americans.

It’s a moment of social justice that is certainly worthy of memorializing, but I’m not sure the memorial has to be an 18-hole golf course. Reducing Austin’s persistent segregation seems more fitting.

There were two key factors limiting what I wrote in this article: word limits and time limits. I only had so many words to work with and also, because of the way monthly mags work, I wrote the thing nearly two months ago. So the article didn’t include some of the recent maneuvers by City Council to save the golf course.

What’s happening now is that City Council is asking UT, which owns the course, to allow the city more time to negotiate a deal to save the course. Basically, right now the city pays UT $500k a year to lease the property, likely a fraction of whatever it would fetch on the open market. At the very least, it looks like UT is demanding a substantial rent hike.

It doesn’t look like anybody on City Council agrees (at least not openly) that we should eagerly welcome the replacement of Muny with a mixed-use development. But now that we’re entering negotiations with UT,  I wonder how much each Council member believes the city should be willing to pay to retain the golf course. $2 million a year? $5 million? $10 million? And what other city programs will we take money away from as a result? Whatever the number is, I hope Council members remember it in the final days of next year’s budget deliberations, as they scramble to find spare dollars and cents to fund homelessness services, after-school programs, fire stations …

Again, if the tract is turned over to private development, it will be a PUD, meaning the city will have an enormous amount of leverage to guide the development in a way that aligns with, as everyone in Austin likes to say, “our community values.”

7 thoughts on “How much will taxpayers pay for golf in West Austin?

  1. Well Jack, while reading this sitting here in my home less than 50 yards from MUNY I had several thoughts… I wondered if the author has had to wait 35 minutes just to go three city blocks to enter MoPac to get to work? I wondered if his kids had to sit in non-climate controlled portables in the dead of August because the schools were already spilling over from lack of space/resources- while his property taxes doubled every 4-5 years? I wondered if the author had a female pedestrian murdered by a speeding driver less than 20 yards from his front door on a 35pmh residential road where the average driver commutes at 50+ mph in order to avoid the insanely congested MoPac? I wondered. IMO- jamming 500+ residential units on to the MUNY tract is an environmental and strategic planning nightmare. There is no easy ingress or egress from that area for a mass amount of workers. There is simply no traffic plan that can, in any manner, handle that level of density around MUNY. My kid is already living a daily near-death experience trying to walk, bike or drive to school due to the massive traffic increase on Exposition and Lake Austin Blvd.

    Sorry – hard pass. I choose children, pedestrians and CO2 exchange/green space for climate/congestion control and an actual livable community.

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    1. Message truncated earlier….

      Sorry – hard pass. I choose children, pedestrians and CO2 exchange/green space for climate/congestion control and an actual livable community. We already have the GROVE rolling in down the street at 45th and Bull Creek: 75 acres of green space quickly developing in to a high-density live, work, play space that will bring thousands of new residents in to an already high-density environment. At least in that area there is more than one road in/out of the area – but the traffic management has been a logistical battle that remains ongoing. So let’s see how that high-density PUD rolls out and just how much “affordable housing” is actually sustained before we start shredding all of the green space in downtown, shall we? Moreover, let’s see the AISD and city council master plan for school maintenance and upgrades in the next decade before we turn Austin in to a NYC density footprint. The West/Central Austin community received very little chance for input and minimal feedback from the project developers/city planners on the GROVE – minimal regard for the already overtaxed, under-resourced public schools in our area. Let’s take a deep breath and let the latest high-dollar, mixed purpose development unfold before we shred start shredding old-growth vegetation, CO2 recharge and Austin tradition. Shall we?

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      1. Pepper, I also want to prioritize green space and as a soon-to-be father, I definitely want my kids to be as safe as possible. I can’t stand the idea of letting my kid drive when they’re 16…there’s nothing more dangerous to our health, safety and environment than our car-based transportation system. We can’t facilitate walkability and transit and fight climate change if we keep sprawling.

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    2. I TOTALLY agree with Pepper Chastain. This type of development would ruin another part of Austin. Just look at the traffic on Red Bud Trail and West Lake Drive now. It is backed up for many blocks in every direction every day from people trying to cut through this neighborhood to get around Mo Pac. I’m guessing most of the traffic are from people who don’t even live in these areas. Can you imagine what it would be like if you added 500+ residential units where Muni is!! Time to move!!

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      1. If CodeNext had passed, there wouldn’t be any development pressure on Muny and other green spaces, but something tells me you hate rezoning too 🙄

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    3. So would you rather sprawl more and take up more space along the Leander corridor? There’s nothing out there to support high-density development so whatever would be developed out there would be car-dependent, which would spew more CO2 than these green spaces will ever hope to suck up.

      Lets not forget that a golf course isn’t an efficient carbon sink at all. It’s just grass and is specifically planted to grow less aggressively. And on top of that, it takes more energy and puts out more CO2 to mow the grass.

      Anti-development folks like you Pepper NEED to start considering ultimate causes not proximate causes. You can’t look at a lack of green space and only think it means that the development is less “green” with respect to the environment. You have to dig deeper than that and consider things like sprawl, opportunity cost, and maintenance. Not to mention, the restrictive single family zoning in West Austin just adds more pressure to develop these green spaces. Get rid of SFZ and you’ll be able to preserve green space.

      And speaking of pedestrians, higher density development in Austin has always come with slower traffic (good for pedestrians) and lots of bike friendly features. And nothing is worse for pedestrians than having to walk a mile to the nearest convenience store.

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      1. Speak for yourself Sai, I am not anti-development. I’ve watched and supported a number of improvements and high-density projects during my 30 years in Austin. It’s the geography of the Muni tract that makes it an impossible solution for this type of development. There is NO TRAFFIC ACCESS other than Lake Austin Blvd. None. At least the Grove @ Bull Creek has several alternate routes to allow for auto, pedestrian, bike and/or bus travel. I’ve used the Chicon and Exposition routes on Metro for years – but the routes on the west side of the city were just cut by CapMetro. We have density in the area but the routes were cut. I fully understand the implications of CodeNext and the value added from high-density, walkable living spaces. I’ve lived in both NYC and San Francisco. But MUNI tract is actually an environmental and strategic nightmare for any type of high-density development.Furthermore, the adjacent Brackenridge tract along the river is, in fact, a biodiversity research area – so yeah, there is actually an abundance of CO2 exchange all around the area. Austin has plenty of ongoing development in West, Central, East and South Austin without having to go out to Leander. Not every piece of land should be ripe for a developers’ bidding war. But if that’s the direction we’re going – at least pick a plot that has practical access. And let’s see the AISD/school development plan to accompany that influx of people. You glossed right over the needs of some of the most important constituents.

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