The future of West Austin's Lions Municipal Golf Course, or Muny, has been debated for years, but the conversation entered a new phase on Monday evening when the city hosted the first of many public meetings to collect feedback on the site's redevelopment.
Nearly 140 attended the Zoom event and dozens offered suggestions, ranging from preserving the historic golf course, which was the first public golf course in the South to racially desegregate, and now hosts 60,000 rounds of golf each year, to building affordable housing for homeless residents to creating a Central Park-type green space.
The city of Austin has leased the 141-acre, 18-hole public golf course from the University of Texas since 1936. But two years ago, smarting from state budget cuts and approaching the end of its 31-year lease with the city of Austin, UT decided that it could no longer lease the course at a discounted rate—about $500,000 a year—and offered to sell it for $110 million, far below its 2019 appraised value of $205 million but too steep a price for City Council.
Now under a month-to-month lease extension, the city is working with UT to develop a redevelopment proposal that serves both parties' interests. UT wants to know what it can sell and redevelop on the Brackenridge tract, which includes Muny, and the city wants to preserve the course and other public green space. "I've long championed the notion that we should plan and manage our growth and not simply unleash it," Council Member Alison Alter said.
Many of the speakers, including representatives from the West Austin Neighborhood Group, Save Historic Muny District, the Muny Conservancy and the West Austin Youth Association, called on the city to "Save Muny" during the Monday meeting, citing its historic significance, public access and in-demand tee times.
Ben Crenshaw is a two-time Masters champion and co-chair of the Muny Conservancy, which is working to raise money to purchase Muny. He started playing golf at the course as a child. "To me, it is part of what I call an incalculable asset to the community and has been for nearly a hundred years," he said Monday.
Other residents suggested alternative options, from affordable housing for homeless residents to a mixed-use development similar to Mueller. "I just don't think it's justifiable that the city has nearly 1,000 acres of golf course land but some of the parks are becoming unusable because they're overcrowded," said Ben Yasui, who recommended the latter. "From an environmental perspective, a golf course is just not a green space."
Recognize the historical significance of Muny's integration by housing those effected by segregation. And keep the trees.@MayorAdler@NatashaD1atx@VanessaForATX@CM_Renteria@D5Kitchen@mkelly007@LesliePoolATX@PaigeForAustin@kathietovo@ALTERforATXhttps://t.co/izzkST8t2n
— Marie Acuna (@marieacunaa) May 18, 2021
Staff will use feedback from this meeting and others in the coming months to develop its rezoning recommendations, which will ultimately go to council for approval. Unlike a typical zoning case, in which a developer would submit a request for rezoning, city staff will initiate zoning cases for the Brackenridge tract, along with three other UT-owned properties. "Our goal here is to hear from as many people as possible," said Jerry Rusthoven, chief zoning officer for the housing and planning department.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.