Parks and Recs board member resigns amid parks planning criticism



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Connie Swinney/The Highlander
Developer and Attorney Steve Hurst resigned his position with the Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Commission recently, citing his concerns about the city's direction on a planned parks improvement package which he believes does not adequately address flood mitigation or bridge and roads in the aftermath of the Oct. 16 flood event.







By Connie Swinney
Staff Writer

Marble Falls-based developer and lawyer Steve Hurst says he has witnessed a few missteps by city governments in planning and preparing for development in flood prone areas.

“I've watched this for years, representing clients in and around Austin and this area. I've lived on Lake Travis, Inks Lake, and I've had property on Lake Marble Falls,” Hurst said. “Shoal Creek and Waller Creek in Austin – the millions of dollars the city of Austin is having to spend right now in those flood plains.

“Development continued, but the cost of remediation and the damage to properties when those flood events occurred was stunning, and they're still spending money trying to address it,” he added. “We're not learning those lessons.”

Because of what he believes could be missteps by the city council on parks planning following the Oct. 16 flood event, Hurst resigned his parks and recreation board member position a day after the Nov. 5 meeting.

“I was disappointed. I went to the parks board. I had no idea that I was going to receive information other than what's in the creeks and the conditions of the parks after the flood,” he said. “Unfortunately, the first thing stepped up on the (Nov. 5) agenda is that we're letting the bids to move forward with this $3 million tranche of improvements.”

On Oct. 16, storm runoff from the Llano River flooded the Highland Lakes, scouring the shoreline of Lake Marble Falls and Backbone Creek. The flood event slammed into the Highland Lakes, temporarily displacing hundreds of Marble Falls residents, causing millions of dollars in property damage, eroding portions of the Lake Marble Falls and Backbone Creek shorelines and dumping excess sediment and debris into the waterway.

“There's parts of the creek that aren't cleaned out. You can see logs and debris,” Hurst said.

“To move forward with that after witnessing this flood and the devastation from it, why aren't we stepping back and re-evaluating that.”

In the aftermath of the flood, city staff opted to forge ahead on a portion of a previously-approved phase of a multi-million dollar parks improvement plan with a bid deadline of Nov. 27.

Phase 1A improvements include a retaining wall on a portion of shoreline in Lakeside Park; a 400-ft. Sandy beach with a rinse station in Lakeside Park on Lake Marble Falls; more parking at the Lakeside Pavilion; underground electric utilities and water/wastewater line upgrades on Buena Vista adjacent to the proposed hotel/conference center site; a new downtown public restroom facility and replacement of the Johnson Park restroom structure; and boat ramp improvements in Johnson Park the Lake Marble Falls Hays Addition boat ramp on Lakeshore Drive. (See Parks Story on Page 1).

“The one that I'm most troubled about is moving forward with a supposed beach on a main body of water that we know is a constantly flowing, pass through lake. I don't see how that's sustainable,” Hurst said. “A beach just doesn't seem to be a priority when you have all these other things that have not been addressed,” Hurst said. “I was taken aback by that. It doesn't really address a lot of the things that I think are simple and affordable and critical for the park.”

Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Director Robert Moss said the beach project creates a new amenity for residents and visitors.

“The sand will wash away but that's general maintenance you have at any beach,” Moss said. “When we get minor rises or significant floods, there's going to be clean up just like anything else.”

City officials said they learned lessons of past floods in crafting the current multi-phase parks improvement plans.

“In 2014, the city completed a Flood Protection Planning study with eight different projects totaling over $31 million dollars,” Marble Falls City Manager Mike Hodge said. “To date, we are working to implement (two) – the proposed creek walk and the improvement of Johnson Street bridge – of those as future phases of the Johnson Park plan.

“The last project calls for the acquisition of several properties so that the creeks can be widened, limiting flooding in the Johnson Park area,” Hodge said. “Flood mitigation is always an element in our planning process.”

Hurst believes the core motivation for the city's steps in enhancing nearby parks involved a planned private-public hotel conference center partnership, with the structure proposed to be located on land, owned by the Marble Falls Economic Development Corporation, adjacent to Falls Creek Park and Lakeside Park at the intersection Yett Street and Buena Vista Drive.

“It was all driven on the idea they were going to do all these major improvements on the water front, and that was tied into the expectation or the hope that they were going to do this hotel/conference center,” Hurst said. “I understand they went through a long comprehensive study. Did surveys of what the community would like to see. It was put into a phasing plan of how to improve the parks.

“As it went through the process, things were added, moved and adjusted,” Hurst added.

City officials maintained that despite the recent flooding, the existing parks improvement plan exhibits a well-grounded and justifiable foundation for future development.

“Following this event, we had 71 private homes with flood damage primarily from Lake Marble Falls rising almost 2 feet higher than any previous flood,” Hodge said. “There was the potential for greater damage, however, the city has been enforcing the stricter floodplain regulation, so a number of new homes were elevated.

“Johnson Park experienced its usual amount of scouring as Backbone Creek came out of its banks there but no more than usual and certainly no reason for us to consider delaying our project for that area,” Hodge added. “[W]e did well during this last event.

“The City implemented several flood mitigation projects directly after the 2007 event, such as bridge replacements and shoreline reinforcement,” Hodge added. “In Johnson Park, we installed sheet piling with bulkheads and redesign and inset of boat slips.”

Hurst believes the October 2018 flood event justified a second look at proposed Phase 1A upgrades (designed in February 2018) based on data such as financial impact, cost assessment of the parks damage.

“When developing in a flood plain, everybody should be concerned. Any city in America where I have worked and developed, cities are trying to get that improvement back off the waterways because they create hazard,” Hurst said. “You're losing your green space and open space. It's the number one attraction in those communities.”

He pointed to areas he believes have not taken priority in city planning in and around parks.

“We know we have to address the issue of Avenue N. Anybody can tell it's substandard. It's not safe,” Hurst said. “Secondarily, you have a (Johnson Park) bridge here that is substandard. It has been impacted for a long time. You can see the erosion all around it.

“We haven't done much in the way of flood plain hazard, mitigation or planning. Before you go through a tranche of a $3 million in funding to take on certificates of obligation, there are things we need to know, and I've been asking for a long time,” Hurst added. “Where are we? Do we have a plan? Do we have some engineering to see what's it going to take to replace these structures? The cost of these things is very significant.”

Hurst also expressed concern about the emphasis on amenities driven by the planned hotel/conference center and the impact on surrounding amenities.

“I felt that any improvements here should be minimal, cleaning out, dredging the (Backbone) creek and improving the embankment. The single most valuable thing we can do is protect our green space and our access to our waterways,” Hurst said. “Keep (the parks) clean, neat and open with the trails, where it has access for the communities, then developers will want to develop, down (Ranch Road) 1431 out by the high school, down (Texas) 71, along (U.S.) 281.

City officials countered Hurst's assessment.

“[W]e are dealing with the impacts and recovery of a historic flood,” Hodge said. “The water has receded and those evaluations are just about complete.

“Steve’s leadership will be missed, he contributed positively by asking hard questions,” Hodge added. “He certainly is entitled to his opinion, and I am sorry that we just don’t agree that we should stop the progress of these projects.”









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