Thursday, July 2, 2015

Concerns before we make any decisions

I have concerns about the potential urban trail the City is proposing for the Gaines Creek Greenbelt area. I am unsure if I am for or against the proposal, I see benefits to a new trail and I see potential detriments. I would really like to receive some answers from the City of Austin before the HOA grants them access to HOA property. I’d also like to have a healthy discussion among residents and discuss the pros and cons.

Travis Country HOA Loss of Property
I am worried if the HOA board grants the City of Austin access to this land to complete a potentially expensive survey, the city will see that grant of access as tacit approval to complete the trail. If the City spends money hiring an engineering firm to conduct a survey and lay out a trail, at what point might the city enlist their considerable power (including legal resources and eminent domain) to guarantee that expenditure is not lost because the Travis Country HOA changes their mind? I would really like to see a more thorough plan and, if they exist, the potential outcomes the city has in mind for our Gaines Creek Greenbelt.
  1. What, legally, are we surrendering by granting access to the City of Austin to conduct a survey of the HOA’s land? At what point could the HOA revoke access to the Gaines Creek Greenspace?
  2. The current trail maps put out by the Oak Hill Trails Association show the trail bisecting 7 homes and is within 120ft of 25. Does this trail map represent the City’s intentions?

Attractive Nuisance
If this trail would see the kind of traffic of other urban trails in town, I doubt it would become an attractive nuisance. Take the Town Lake trail for example, there are few hours, if any, over the course of the day that trail is not occupied by law-abiding citizens enjoying the trail in a responsible manner. However, paving a 12ft wide path into the woods that will NOT see moderate to heavy traffic from well-intentioned citizens seems like it would invite mischief. We’ve all visited Twin Falls or Sculpture falls in the summer, the smell and piles of toilet paper can be overpowering. Would the city provide comfort stations to mitigate this issue? The flip side of that argument is that bathroom facilities could provide a nuisance of their own, offering the local homeless population a focal point for continued illegal residency in the greenbelt. Where would non-residents park to use this space? My guess would be they’d park outside the Wildflower Preserve. Imagine the busiest day in spring for bluebonnet pictures, now spread that amount of parked cars and jaywalking across the entire year. The residents of the Copperwood area have experienced first-hand what happens when their backyard is a preferred route to the greenbelt.  
  1. What is the projected use along this route? At what hours will this trail see substantial traffic?
  2. Can the City show that this will not exacerbate the already significant homeless problem we have in the greenbelt?
  3. Where will people park to access this trail?
  4. Will the city provide any comfort facilities? How will these be maintained?

Affects to current established trail system
We have at least 3 well established trails in our area of the Gaines Creek Greenbelt, at least one of which has existed and served the community for over 20 years. Several other trails link Gaines Creek to nearby communities and offer a primitive and continuous wilderness experience from Travis Country all the way to Lost Creek and Zilker Park. The plans I’ve seen would flatten long sections of established trails and would destroy the ‘primitive’ experience that many of Travis Country’s residents appreciate.
  1. Does the trail have to be a 12ft wide path or could we retain the primitive trails that have served the community for 20 years?
  2. If we can retain the current primitive trail, how much maintenance would the city do?

Gaines Creek Greenbelt is narrow but serves several important purposes
The Gaines Creek Greenbelt is, at it’s most narrow, only 300 feet wide. Usable space between Southwest Parkway and Gaines Creek reduces that width to 90 feet. If a 12 foot wide trail were placed with the recommended 20ft wide buffer zones it would effectively scrape all the tree cover between Southwest Parkway’s substantial traffic and the creek away. Those trees provide not only privacy to the 20 homes that directly border it but also serve to deaden the noise produced by the traffic. If this 2 mile long trail were cut to the bare minimum 12 foot wide required for an ‘urban trail’ it would remove almost 3 acres of trees from ours and the surrounding greenspace. If it were cut to the full potential width (12 ft. trail and 20ft buffers on either side) it would remove 12.5 acres of trees.
  1. What benefits will the residents see that will help to outweigh these potential issues:
    1. Increased noise
    2. Loss of up to 12 acres of woodland
    3. Increased visibility of our once-private backyards

Impact on wildlife and topography
The Gaines Creek Greenbelt is home to various species of animals, ranging from Grey Fox and porcupines to salamanders and songbirds. There is potential for breeding Golden Cheeked Warblers and Black Capped Vireos. Has the City given any thought to the potential for threatened or endangered species along this route? What would happen if after a 12 foot wide path is paved into the greenbelt an endangered species is found and the trail must be closed or re-routed? Will the city remove the tons of asphalt and restore the 3 acres of trees or simply abandon the trail to vagrants and miscreants? The Gaines Creek Greenbelt is also a riparian area and subject to seasonal high water and erosion. Paving any area increases water velocity and water volume. When we see a weather event Gaines Creek flows a muddy brown, not clear like the creeks farther into the Greenbelt. I wonder how much consideration would be given to mitigation of the increased risk for erosion and runoff that 3 acres of pavement would generate?
  1. Does the city have any plans for an environmental impact study?
  2. If the trail is found to be unsuitable, would the city remove and remediate?
  3. What considerations are given to erosion and runoff mitigation?

I have included some visualizations to help you understand what the city is proposing and what we already have in place. You can adjust the interactive map to show satellite, topographic, or political imagery.

Interactive map of current trails and proposed trail
static satellite map
static political map