There may not be a piece of downtown real estate more Balkanized, and by implication more challenging, when it comes to reaching consensus on a master plan than Lamar Beach.
The stakeholders include the Parks and Recreation Department, the West Austin Youth Association (WAYA), Austin Pets Alive!, Austin Independent School District, Austin Arts in Public Places, and a second handful of others.
James Fink, president of YMCA of Austin, summarized that point before City Council this month, noting how groups coming together to make sacrifices for a greater good is not an easy achievement.
“In fact, most of the time it’s dead on arrival. With this one, I think that’s the magic in this. When we were able to look at something that was going to benefit the whole, and not just ourselves, we got to work,” Fink said.
Fink was one of the last of many to address the Dec. 8 session of City Council and give his blessing to the Lamar Beach Master Plan that Parks & Recreation has been shepherding through a very public process since October 2015.
As can be expected with a project this complex, City Hall didn’t get this far without stepping on some toes. WAYA Executive Director Melissa Mauro reminded the council that this all began in early 2014, when months after the athletics association signed a 25-year agreement with the city for use of the park in return for its significant investment, WAYA learned from neighbors that the city was planning an extension of Pressler Street into the park.
Austin High School—the oldest high school in Texas and one with a shared-park use agreement—was also unaware of the extension plan. With a 33-acre campus, Austin High is woefully short of land for its needs; a comparable sized student body in the suburbs would have 100 acres, according to AISD. They partnered with WAYA and other stakeholders to lobby City Council for the master plan.
The councilmembers adopted the master plan after hearing their comments, but with the understanding that completion of all its components would require a bond referendum and a phasing of projects over the next seven to eight years.
Phase One Projects
- Cesar Chavez St. Minor Improvements
- Stephen F. Austin Drive Improvements
- Ball Field Improvements Phase One
- West Parking Area Phase One
- Neighborhood Amenity Area Phase One
- Flume & Boat Ramp Improvements
- Butler Hike & Bike Trail Improvements
- Heron Creek Park Trail Improvements
- South Parking Area
- Town Lake Animal Facility Relocation
There are more than 20 projects crammed into the master plan.
On the high end, they could total $87 million. The costliest public sector project is the re-routing of Cesar Chavez Street, which bisects the park; moving it to the north to create a unified park would run from $27 million to more than $37 million.
Rebecca Leonard, a principal at Design Workshop, the lead plan designer, told the council projects were divided in terms of what could be done before Cesar Chavez is rerouted. The first phase could include the relocation of Austin Pets Alive! to a new facility, ballfield improvements by WAYA, and waterfront and trail improvements by Parks & Recreation.
When Austin TOWERS last reviewed the Lamar Beach project, there were six alternate site plans. By summer’s end, there was just one.
Explaining the preferred plan, Leonard said it elevates Cesar Chavez to the level of the cliff north of the park, where it is directly in alignment with Pressler. By moving Cesar Chavez, traffic on the existing Cesar Chavez route would be converted to a park road with vehicular speeds of 15 to 25 mph, instead of the 40 to 55 mph seen today.
The new Cesar Chavez alignment also allows improvements to Lamar Boulevard, Sandra Muraida Way and B.R. Reynolds Drive, the three north-south streets that cut through the park. Leonard said Sandra Muraida and B.R. Reynolds would get turn lanes that would increase stacking potential.
The plan also requires a board walk that would go into the lake under the Lamar Boulevard bridge, “and, finally, it would allow Pressler to connect directly in at the top of the cliff, and not ever have to come into the park with traffic,” Leonard said.
“Some of the key benefits are that it creates large, contiguous waterfront park instead of one that’s bifurcated by Cesar Chavez, increases parkland by about seven acres, and that increase comes mainly from what we call the grade-separated oval about that’s there by the high school now,” she said.
Leonard was referring to elimination of the on and off ramps that connect Cesar Chavez to the MoPac Expressway. The addition of these seven acres would increase the park size to 72.4 acres.
“It maintains the current recreational uses, but puts them in a more efficient layout and increases recreational opportunities for the general public … like general open play areas, playscapes, picnic areas and many other programming opportunities,” Leonard said.
Phase Two Projects
- Cesar Chavez St. Realignment
- Cesar Chavez St. & B.R. Reynolds Drive Intersection
- Lamar Bridge Underpass Intersection Improvements
- Lamar Boardwalk
- Pressler St. Extension & Pedestrian Connection
- S. Park Road/Cesar Chavez St. Diet
- Savanna Restoration
- Gateway & Water Quality Features
- Ball Field Improvements Phase Two
- W. Parking Area Phase Two
- Neighborhood Amenity Area Phase Two
Finally, the plan includes pedestrian and bicycle access for the Old West Austin Neighborhood to the north.
“This was one of the most important things to the neighborhood. They’ve lived next to this park for so many years and it’s very difficult—it’s about a mile to mile and a half out of their way to actually get to the park in a safe manner,” Leonard said.