City Council shifts downtown tree conversation to Parks and Rec Board

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Austin City Council Monday night discussed, but ultimately moved the question of removing four downtown trees to the Parks and Recreation Board.

During its work session, which followed Monday night’s meeting, the council opted to let the Parks and Recreation Board talk about and recommend what to do with four trees, one of which is dying, on the downtown one-way.

The trees in question include three on the north side of Third Avenue NW and another on the south side. Mayor Steve King said that Chuck Moline, owner of  AdvisorNet Financial and  housed in the Midtown Building next to Third Avenue, came to him requesting that the three trees be removed for safety reasons.

The sidewalk is heaving around the trees and raised concerns as a tripping hazard. King said they had three meetings about the issue, but that he couldn’t endorse removing the trees.

“I can’t see, and this is a personal feeling, I don’t see the reason to take down healthy trees that aren’t ash trees,” King said Monday.

King said he also met with Kyle Keenan, owner of the Coffee House on Main, who indicated that he would rather keep the trees.

Randy Kramer, who owns the Town Center Building on the south side of the boulevard, brought concerns of maintenance to the area, admitting that the trees provide shade, but that more needs to be done to make the area presentable.

“If the trees stay there’s got to be a plan for leaf maintenance,” Kramer said, after handing out pictures showing the area being unkempt with fallen leaves and twigs. “That doesn’t look good.”

The sentiment was shared by Member At-Large Jeff Austin.

“You look at the area around the trees,” Austin said. “There are weeds growing up … it’s not well maintained. It doesn’t look good at all.”

Laura Helle, executive director of Austin Area Arts, said that if the trees are ultimately removed more of an effort needs to be made to replace them, though to replace the bigger trees would be impossible to do with smaller trees according to Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Nelson.

But Helle also pointed to a need for clear policy in the manner, something some board members were concerned with as well.

“I’m not sure there is a clear policy,” Helle remarked. “Who makes the decision for the sidewalk?”

Ultimately, though, the decision was sent to the Parks and Recreation Board, which will have a meeting this Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

“We should let the parks department handle this,” said First Ward Councilwoman Rebecca Waller, who is also on the Parks and Recreation Board. “Not make a decision and let them handle his on their end.”

Second Ward Councilman Jason Baskin agreed. “Look at the pros and cons and come back to us.”

MERC Site

The Council declined to entertain an offer by MERC, which owns the plot of land located next to Oakland Avenue and Fourth Street SE, to buy the property.

The site was the location of efforts by MERC to remediate the land in an effort to get contaminated materials out of the ground and the river bed.

However, the location is located on the flood plain and while the city would have the option for development should they purchase, council members brought up concerns including the fact that the land is on the flood plain as well as what would happen if more clean-up were required in the future.

In Other News:

• Council members voted to move forward with plans to renovate the Council Chambers, which would include flooring and extending the dais to include a spot for Honorary Council Members. Cost estimate sits at around $23,000.