There are many interests in the property at 401 W. St. Johns. Because of this, there are several different considerations in creating a park in this space. If you have a question not answered by these FAQs, please post it and we will try to find an answer for you.
Why does Highland neighborhood need a park?
Highland Neighborhood has two parks, T.A. Brown and Reilly, both on the edges of the neighborhood. Neither serve as a gathering place to create a sense community in Highland. Both parks are also jointly owned with AISD so they are inaccessible to the neighborhood on weekdays. A park located centrally at St. Johns would be ideal to create a community in Highland. Multiple studies have shown how urban green spaces decrease crime, due in part to social ties created by the casual interactions at a park. Parks have also been shown to increase property value, increase physical activity, and decrease childhood obesity.
Despite these benefits Highland neighborhood has one percent open space, significantly less than the urban core average of five percent. Additionally, only 1% of land area is undeveloped, meaning there is not only a lack of parks and community open space, but also very limited opportunities for additional space to be developed. The majority of Highland residents fall outside of the 2010 City Council goal that all residents in Austin’s urban core will live within ¼ mile safe walk to a park. Most live a half mile or more from the nearest parks, which can not be used on weekdays as previously stated. For this reason the 2003 Highland Neighborhood Plan, adopted by City Council, called for the creation of a park at 401 W. St. Johns.
What do we need to do to get a park?
Highland neighborhood’s desire for a park has already been presented to City Council by HNA President Damon Howze. There are two other parties interested in the property at 401 W. St. Johns, Austin City Watershed and University Hills Optimist Club. Council Member Kathie Tovo had been planning stakeholder meetings between all parties regarding the property on St Johns. Because Watershed needs to move forward with their filtration pond, CM Tovo has decided to forgo the stakeholder meetings and instead bring forth a resolution before city council looking for more direction. The resolution has been introduced and more details are on the Resolution page.
In preparation for this process, Highland Neighborhood Park Committee has started a petition asking Austin City Council and Park Officials to support a park at this location. We do need help circulating petitions in our neighborhood. You can volunteer for this on the petition page of the park website. We have now added the petition online also. We also have an email and letter for residents to send to Council Members on the City Council page. Additionally, there is a survey on the website to find out what amenities our neighborhood would like in a park. We ask for your involvement in these efforts and in the Council Meeting when we have more details.
What does Watershed want to do with the property?
The 8 acre space is the headwaters of Waller Creek and is owned by City of Austin and controlled by City Watershed. Watershed will be constructing a filtration pond on the property to remove pollutants from runoff water that feeds into Waller Creek after it rains. Filtration ponds have a special filtration media (sand and a mix of soil and organics) with an under drain system that forms the bottom of the pond. The filtration media is not suitable for recreation, so the pond will not allow recreational use when dry.
Six years ago Watershed was approached by Damon Howze, HNA president, regarding neighborhood desire for a park on this property. Watershed’s original plan was to relocate UHO for a wet pond and put a park on the remaining space. This plan was restated every year to Mr. Howze, then in December of 2012 Watershed presented a pond plan created with UHO and without neighborhood input. Watershed’s plan was created to not impact the Optimist fields on the property and did not allow for multi-use open park. The pond would have 4-5 foot sides, with limestone on 3 sides, concrete on the 4th side, and grasses at the base. The steep sides would require a chain link fence around it for safety.
The neighborhood raised concerns with Watershed and City council and the plans were put on hold. The neighborhood has asked Watershed for other designs that would make the pond look nicer. By making the sides of the pond less steep, different fencing options would be available, such as a wooden split rail. Watershed has already expended a large amount of money and energy into creating this design, so it is likely that any alterations to the plan will be minor
What do University Hills Optimists want to do with the property?
The University Hills Optimists (UHO) have been leasing the property from the city annually for the last 42 years to run their youth sports program. Unfortunately there is no other space in Highland neighborhood on which to create a park. Fortunately the Parks department has found other options for UHO, including moving their entire program to North Austin Optimists. This option would allow UHO’s children to continue playing together, and allow the neighborhood to have a park on the City owned property on St Johns.
Mr. Reznicek stated in the June HNA meeting that the UHO would like to keep the fields, possibly take down the fences, and have the neighborhood put a park around the fields. This would leave our neighborhood approximately 0.35 acres for a park which is not nearly enough for a neighborhood park in general, and particularly for one of our size. UHO also suggested at the meeting that the neighborhood could put a park on the land adjacent to the ditch on Northcrest just north of St Johns. This option is a unacceptable due to lack of space on the property(1.3 acres, almost half of which is a ditch) and the traffic on St. Johns and Northcrest, making it a dangerous option for Highland’s residents and children. Another UHO idea is to pave this same area on Northcrest to create parking for UHO, which would then give Highland their current parking space on St Johns for a park. This option would take green, open space surrounded by multiple residences and paving it for UHO parking instead. While this space is being temporarily used for construction storage by the city, it was previously used by residents to walk dogs and as open space. The neighborhood park committee has been discussing with the City moving the equipment that is being stored there. Other UHO ideas include the city putting drainage into the ditches on Northcrest or on 401 W. St. Johns, and then filling the ditches to put a park on top of them. This option would not allow enough space for a park for our neighborhood. Highland’s vision for a park and general park design does not involve attempting to squeeze structures and open space onto the edge of the property. This would also be a costly alteration by the city using the tax dollars of Highland residents, while not providing the best use for the property.
How much space do we need for a park?
Five acres is the minimum recommended size for a neighborhood park by the National Recreation and Parks Association, and the median park size in Austin is 10 acres. The Proposed Standards for Recreational Facilities recommends that one acre per 300 population is a reasonable standard in cities with populations over a million inhabitants. This means that 14 acres is the recommended park size for Highland neighborhood. The American Planning Association states that population density is a significant factor in determining needed neighborhood park space. Several studies recommend that more space should be provided in multifamily, high population density neighborhoods and in areas with a large percentage of elderly adults.
Highland Neighborhood had 4225 residents in the 2010 census, over 700 are children and over 300 are people of retirement age. It is also within the ½ mile Transit Oriented Development (TOD) district around the Highland and Justin/Lamar TODs. These TODs are designed to be high density. Highland neighborhood has consistently been very pro-growth, for example voting in favor of allowing backyard residences. We are already seeing plans for apartments at ACC. Based upon recommended park size and Highland’s current and expected population density, we will need all the space remaining after the creation of the pond in order to create a park that can adequately serve our community.
What about the University Hills Optimists?
We recognize the service that the UHO provides for the youth of Austin. However, the Optimists stated in December 2012 that they no longer had enough volunteers to maintain the property. Very few of the kids that they serve in their program come from our neighborhood. Most of the children come from north and northeast Austin, some as far as Pflugerville, so they do not necessarily require a field located on St Johns. Highland neighborhood has over 700 children who have no location but this to use as a neighborhood park.
The parks department has found several options for UHO. One of these options is moving UHO’s entire sports program to the North Austin Optimist fields 1.5 miles away. This would allow the youth of Austin to continue to be served by these sports programs, and the youth of Highland, and all of Highland’s thousands of residents, to have a park.
How can I stay up to date on the progress of the park ?
We will be updating the HNA park page frequently with any new information, and will post any major announcements on the various news and chat groups for Highland neighborhood. You can also subscribe to A Park for Highland to receive an email when there are new posts.