Rollingwood City Council chambers were full at the March 21 regular meeting. Many of the residents present came to make a public comment regarding the Parks Master Plan currently in the works—particularly an item about possible changes to the Rollingwood Park upper ball fields.
About 12 residents spoke, and several others voiced they were there for the same item, but just wanted to listen and learn.
Mayor Roxanne McKee moved the item to higher on the agenda to accommodate those who came to speak. First, Parks Commision Member Amy Pattillo gave an update on the Rollingwood Park Master Plan. No action was scheduled to take place.
The Parks Commision has been updating council members almost monthly over the past three years, Pattillo said. In March, the commission received a more formalized paper draft master plan for the first time and members are currently reading it and making notes.
“We’ve had a lot of comments as part of this process, and we’re making sure those things get integrated,” Pattillo said. “We are going to meet as a commission and review all the comments. All of our comments are going to be incorporated into a second draft to bring back to the April meeting. Then we may have further comments, or we may be ready to take it to City Council to review.”
Options for potential changes per the Master Plan draft
The March 1 Master Plan draft presentation contained a slide titled “upper field studies.”
It said in addition to consensus items, there was focused dialogue related to the layout of the upper fields which led to the study of possible field configurations.
“Based on public feedback and direction of the Park Commission, these options were developed to study possible configurations of fields given the existing size and constraints of the park boundaries, topography, vegetation and need for parking,” the slide said.
The options depicted keeping the existing field in place and redeveloping the remainder of the upper playfield area; keeping the existing field in place to create a multipurpose lawn at the corner of Rollingwood Drive and Gentry; or rebuilding a permanent field in the rear of the upper park.
Rollingwood residents moved to speak on the item
Former Mayor Thom Farrell spoke during public comment period first and brought up the history of the fields. Farrell said when the property went up for sale in 1993, the city of Rollingwood had the opportunity to buy it, although there were other offers from developers who wanted to build houses on-site. The cost was $250,000, Farrell said, pointing out that meant more in 1993. He said a lawsuit settled around the same time against the city of Austin over water fees provided the money needed for the purchase. A vote was held and the decision was in favor of the city purchasing the park.
“The citizens really got involved and worked to put it together,” he said.
Resident and former Western Hills Little League Coach Tom Yemington said he has been researching the history of the park.
“I’m really impressed with the amount of effort, time and money that’s gone into it, and how much of that has been outside of the city budget,” he said.
Mark Greenberg, president of Western Hills Little League, said about 400 kids play on the fields every day.
“We have trouble servicing the kids within our league,” Greenberg said. “We can’t grow it because we have such limits on our space. We utilize every inch of the fields to service the youth in the community.”
City Council seeks to bring clarification to the public
Alderperson Wendi Hundley, who used to serve on the Parks Commission, said she has been familiar with the master plan project since the beginning.
“It’s a passionate issue,” Hundley said. “I just want to say from a Parks Commission standpoint, there has never been any discussion about limiting sports from playing there. We want to see youth athletics continue at the park. (Cutting that) has never been on the table.”
Hundley said there has also never been discussion about terminating leases for girls softball or Little League.
She said the Master Plan, meant to be a long-term planning document, shows how the space is being used and then offers other ways to use it, if ever necessary.
“It’s for the city, to show them how the field can be used in the future,” she said. If Western Hills wanted to rent it out to a soccer league (for example), it shows how we could do that—it shows the flexibility.”
Hundley said the document will also help in obtaining grants and funding for other items, such as ADA -accessibility and community trail improvements.