County closes on deal to buy downtown lot
Erosion could cause biker or jogger to tumble into lake.
Travis County officials on Friday closed on a deal to buy a downtown lot for $7.25 million, narrowly approved by commissioners in March.
The county was waiting to rezone the property to close on the purchase to be able to build beyond two stories. With the lot rezoned, the county can build several stories.
Commissioners Karen Huber and Sarah Eckhardt had opposed the purchase in the March 20 meeting, saying they believed the building cost too much. Records with the Travis Central Appraisal District show the quarter-acre lot to be worth $1.04 million and officials said in March that the land was independently appraised at $3.7 million. The purchase, however, is not just for land and also came with engineering and design for a 140,000 square foot building by Development 2000 Inc.
If built, an office at the lot would likely house county prosecutors, County Judge Sam Biscoe has said.
The purchase was paid for with bonds that don’t require voter approval.
Downtown bicyclists and joggers, take note: The city of Austin will be closing a portion of the Butler hikeand-bike trail along Lady Bird Lake to rebuild a portion that officials fear could soon crumble into the water.
Construction crews will fence off a quarter-mile stretch of trail just east of the Seaholm Power Plant some time next week. That means bicyclists and joggers on the north side of the lake will be rerouted to West Cesar Chavez Street for the next six months, rather than being able to follow the trail as it traces the shoreline and traverses the peninsula that juts into the lake at Shoal Creek. The section being closed includes the small bridge that connects the peninsula to the shoreline.
The city is closing that stretch because the peninsula has been eroding for decades and is now losing about a foot a year on the Lady Bird Lake side. A portion of the shoreline has eroded to within a few feet of the trail and someone who veers off the trail could easily wind up taking a swim, city officials say.
“It wouldn’t take long for (erosion) to get below the trail,” said Morgan Byars, the city engineer overseeing the $1 million repair. The money will come from drainage utility fees paid through water bills.
The city had been considering two solutions to the erosion. One called for cutting a channel across the peninsula and spanning that channel with a second bridge. The idea was discarded in favor of shoring up the peninsula with limestone boulders and adding trees and other vegetation to hide the work. Crews will work to preserve view corridors across the lake, Byars said.
Byars said the city built the peninsula in the 1960s to channel Shoal Creek water downstream of the intakes of the Seaholm and Green Water Treatment plants. This kept the plants from taking in the dirty, debris-choked water that courses down Shoal Creek during floods. But erosion has shaved about 20 feet from the peninsula’s width, and water now washes over it during floods, Byars said.
Someone apparently tried to curb the problem years ago by dumping cement along the shoreline, but the idea has not halted the erosion, Byars said.
Bicyclists will be able to use the pathway on the south side of Cesar Chavez Street during construction, but it is too narrow for two-way bike traffic “and not ideal,” Byars said.
The city will host a meeting Wednesday for the public to ask questions of the contractor hired for the project. The meeting is at 6 p.m. in Room 325 of One Texas Center Office, 505 Barton Springs Road.