Rollingwood officials respond to residents’ concerns over police station move

Rollingwood residents continue to voice concerns over the proposal to move the town’s police station to a residential street. The contentious issue was again the subject of a Rollingwood City Council session last week. While no action has been taken, the matter will be before the council for a possible vote on July 15.

City officials have been wrestling with a proposed purchase of 503 Vale St. – a half-acre property near Zilker Park – since late April. Rollingwood Mayor Michael Dyson signed an initial contract of sale for the plot, on behalf of the town, on May 19. The $ 1.2 million deal includes a 60-day option period that expires at the end of July and the property is valued at just under $ 2 million by the Travis County Assessment District .

On June 17, Rollingwood City Council postponed separate decisions to rezone and purchase a property intended to house the City’s Police Department, currently located in the City Hall complex on Nixon Drive. The point is expected to be picked up at the regular council session slated for mid-July, with flexible city escrow until July 17 and the contract option period ending July 31, Dyson said.

On Tuesday, the podium convened as a workshop and briefed residents on the city’s 2019 Space Needs Assessment which outlined two options for improving police facilities on the City Hall campus. town and the reasons why the council is suing the Vale site.

The current police station building needs work

The current building housing the police department was constructed in 1974, and board member Amy Pattillo said improvements were needed due to its age and current layout, hampering future police force accreditation. from the city. Based on 2019 costs, she said the report estimates the cost of reconstruction at the site to be nearly $ 5 million, but with impervious coverage limitations and environmental issues impacting the expansion. , this cost would increase. Other drainage issues could also arise for owners downstream of the project, she said, with a recourse estimated to cost $ 7 million, a problem which board member Sara Hutson said , was his greatest concern if the current facility was expanded.

“One of the things I tried to understand with people about why the city would consider alternatives (to the needs assessment plan) is the reality that you can think of $ 5 million as maybe the cost of construction, but we also have these downstream drainage issues that could potentially, on the low side, be an additional $ 7 million, ”Pattillo said. “So effectively, the cost of renovating City Hall could be closer to $ 12 million.”

She said voters, through a bond referendum, would be required to decide whether to accept the debt.

Council member Wendi Hundley said the current small size of the town’s administrative space does not allow Rollingwood to bring in some of its consultants, such as building inspectors and water repairers, in-house, a measure that would lead to cost savings.

Vale Street location could work as a short-term solution

She said the location of the Vale property “made sense” as it adjoins neighboring Austin jurisdiction, borders one of the city’s three main entrances, and provides quick access to MoPac and the Greenbelt. . The property could be used as a short-term residence for the police department if Rollingwood proceeds with the expansion of the current site, allowing officers to return to the City Hall campus once the project is completed in about 18 months, she said.

Officials explored leasing space in the city’s business district near Bee Cave Road while the current station site is undergoing renovations. City administrator Amber Lewis said those costs could be too high, especially because any site would have to be equipped to meet the needs of the station. Hundley said the property could also serve as a “stopgap” to house Rollingwood staff during town hall renovations, saving the town from incurring rental costs.

Pattillo noted concerns raised by residents regarding the zoning process and the action itself, including a potential change in the residential nature of the street and the quality of life in the Vale area; decrease in property value; loss of tax revenue for the city from residential property; increased traffic from a 24 hour operation; loss of availability for officers to be adjacent to the park for security reasons; precedent for zoning other commercial residences; and the expectation of homeowners that the street would remain residential when they bought their homes.

Some residents were in favor of the move and said the site was reasonable for a police station, Pattillo said.

Hundley said she has spoken to people on both sides of the issue.

“This could be a low risk opportunity for the city to assess this property as we have the option of acquiring it below market value,” she said. “The reason I look at buying the property differently and separately from the zoning of the property is that I personally would not vote to rezone the property without answering a lot of questions, and we did not answer any questions. a lot of questions. “

Hundley said officials did not spend any resources on answering these questions since the city does not own the property and “because there is no guarantee that we can get this money back if we move forward. and let’s not buy the property “. Since the purchase would be below market value, she said the city could spend time on a professional analysis of the property.

Residents express concerns about zoning, resale

Hundley said “the majority” of residents said they wanted more information about the project.

Resident Grant Sparks presented a petition to City Council on June 9. At the time, the document had the support of 77 residents of 51 Rollingwood households who opposed the project. On Tuesday, the petition included 182 signatures from 111 households, or about 20% of the city’s 558 households, as reported on the official Rollingwood website.

“By turning a single family home into a police station, it will betray the trust the landlords have placed in the city to protect our zoning,” resident Jack Holland wrote in an email to The View.

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted against the recommendation to rezone the site to city council last month. Given that 20% of surrounding landlords objected in writing to the zoning change and following the committee’s unanimous vote, a qualified majority of four out of five council members would be required to overturn the committee’s recommendation.

Although Commissioners discussed some of the other proposed uses for the Vale property, Hundley said they said they were only responsible for deciding whether the property should be rezoned and that they “don’t have the information. which they would need to really have suggestion on these other things.

However, according to video of the June 10 meeting, Commissioner Amie Rodnick, who is a former board member, said she had come forward for a podium seat after a previous board dezoned the area. property behind his house despite objections from neighbors. “You have to get the support of the neighbors if you want to rezon something like this,” she said.

Commissioner Alex Robinette said she agreed with Rodnick and called the rezoning proposal “a huge demand”, adding that “it comes with great opposition from nearby neighbors”.

Commissioner Mike Rhodes acknowledged the “overwhelming lack of support” for the proposal while Commissioner Brian Nash attributed his vote no to the scale of opposition he heard.

Commissioner Jamil Alam said the Vale site was not “the right permanent location for this facility,” but said he would not object as a temporary site if many details were worked out.

Pattillo said she recalled a commissioner saying “he wished there had been an assessment to see if there were any potential short-term uses for the property.” She said she heard other commissioners say they were voting the way the community responded.

Holland, a real estate investor, and Gary Grossenbacher, a resident, have expressed concern over the city buying a property and then finding that it cannot be used for a government function. They fear that the leaflet could be resold later.

“If we acquire the property and spend the money and we decide not to go ahead with that specific property for public use, then we can sell the property and get the money we spent to appraise back. ownership for those uses, ”Hundley said.

The property would be put up for auction, its starting price including all expenses incurred by the city for the plot, Pattillo added.

However, board member Gavin Massingill, who said he plans to vote against the rezoning and purchase when the issue goes to the podium later this month, said board action is a short-term solution, not real estate speculation. He said he didn’t agree with buying the property until it was dezoned. Pattillo said the question was reasonable when buying property and was not a strategy for “arbitrage” or the buying and selling of assets.

“People don’t want this,” Grossenbacher said. “Why waste our time on something that doesn’t have the support of the community? Let’s find a solution that brings the community together instead of a solution that will only provoke resentment and anger and keep everyone apart. “

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