The debate over the next steps for Muny has continued between stakeholders through recent years, including questions of whether the golf course will be preserved, sold or remain under lease by the city. While Muny remains operational through its lease with Austin, it is now part of an open rezoning case that could shape the future of four UT properties, including the 141-acre golf course.
Initiated by City Council in December, the rezoning process will see the city work to craft an "appropriate" zoning framework for land including the university-owned Brackenridge tracts containing Muny and several dozen acres along the Colorado River off Lake Austin Boulevard. Also under consideration are the Gateway Apartments tract, located at 1624 W. Sixth St.; the West Pickle Research Campus, located at MoPac and West Braker Lane; and the Montopolis Research Center, located at Montopolis Drive and East Oltorf Street.
Jerry Rusthoven, chief zoning officer for the Austin Housing and Planning Department, said the city and UT had previously reached an impasse over whether the university could proceed with development on the properties without city approval. Although the university did not initiate the current process, he said, it agreed to city officials' direction last year to rezone the land in collaboration with UT.
“The city has maintained that if UT is not using the property for a university use, then it’s subject to zoning. UT kind of disagrees with that interpretation and feels that they don’t need to do zoning even if it’s for a non-university use. ... We’re kind of in a stalemate with that," Rusthoven said. "They were fine with us moving forward with the zoning process. Now, whether they’re happy with the outcome of that or not, to be determined."
Rusthoven said unlike "99.9%" of rezoning cases in which a developer or landowner appeals to the city for a specific change on a property, the cases covering the four UT properties will see city staff craft their own zoning recommendation based on community members' feedback. Staff's recommendations will then head to the Austin Planning Commission and City Council for final approval.
Rusthoven said those recommendations, which could be separate for each of the properties, may move forward both the university's plans to sell or develop the land to benefit its operations as well as city priorities such as the preservation of Muny and the extension of a hike and bike trail on the Brackenridge tracts.
“I think that there’s a clear hope anyway that we can come up with some sort of master solution where UT gets what they need on a variety of different properties, and then maybe the city can get some things that we’ve been looking for," Rusthoven said. "It's still pretty wide open right now.”
Scotty Sayers, co-chair of The Muny Conservancy nonprofit established to raise funds for purchasing the golf course, said he hopes the rezoning process can result in a "win-win" for Austin, UT, city residents and patrons of the civic golf course. Sayers said he believes the conservancy has money, and backing that could eventually facilitate its goal of buying Muny and renovating portions of the property, but whether the city's rezoning and the university's own redevelopment plans will allow for that outcome remains to be seen.
“We’ve raised quite a lot of money, but the point is that we won’t know what kind of a deal there is to be made until the city and UT determine how much development the city can provide infrastructure for UT on the rest of the tract," Sayers said. "If they’re able to develop more than what they would otherwise be entitled to on the lake side of Lake Austin Boulevard, then that just brings more dollars to their bottom line and would allow them to sell us Muny at a reasonable price."
The rezoning process kicks off June 21 with a public meeting centered on the Brackenridge tracts and will likely be followed by additional community and small-group meetings over the coming months. Rusthoven said the first meeting alone generated interest from hundreds of residents and stakeholders.
"I’m used to responding to what someone’s asking for, not being told, ‘Here’s a blank canvas; go paint it.’ Having to do that with about 500 people all with brushes and paint, it’ll be interesting," he said.