SLIDESHOW: Site visit of McKalla Place in North Austin reveals nature, wildlife and storage

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A 24-acre piece of city-owned land in North Austin has garnered significant attention in the past year from developers and the operator of a Major League Soccer team.

On July 10, the city hosted a walk through the site, which revealed a flourishing ecosystem of cattails, willows, cottonwood and sycamore trees, and red-winged blackbirds, according to North Austin resident Craig Nazor, a conservation committee member with the Austin Sierra Club, an organization that works to keep Austin a vibrant place.

Nazor pointed out these sights at 10414 McKalla Place, which was bought by the city in 1995 with plans to build its North Service Center for Austin Water. An explosion in 2003 halted construction, and the site underwent extensive remediation and was cleared by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for residential use.

McKalla Place is bordered by the Capital Metro railroad tracks as well as two residential developments under construction to the north and the west as well as a third residential and office project that will break ground in 2019 also to the west.

A lot of the plants on the site, Nazor said, likely wouldn’t exist without some sort of water source. And those red-winged blackbirds typically fly near wetlands, he said.

“[The cattail marsh] only grows where there’s enough water,” he said. “It’s coming back on its own.”

He points to how water that has pooled from recent rains slopes toward the MetroRail line. The water then funnels under the tracks at a bridge near Denton Drive and becomes the starting point to Little Walnut Creek, Nazor said.

According to city documents, the Watershed Protection Department reinspected the site June 11 and did not find any critical environmental features. A wetland biologist noted “the presence of wetland plants within a pond in the footprint of the old detention pond … however Environmental Criteria Manual 1.10.3 exempts this area from wetland CEF status because it is artificial hydrology within a permitted pond,” according to city documents.

Austin Water now uses the property to store materials, including mulched leaves before they head to become Dillo Dirt, a compost the city makes from yard trimmings and treated sewage sludge, according to an Austin Water representative.

Last year, Precourt Sports Ventures, which operates the Columbus Crew soccer team, began pursuing options to build an MLS stadium in Austin and relocate the team. Austin City Council approved a resolution June 29 to start negotiations with PSV for building a 20,000-seat stadium and soccer park.

Council also approved a resolution June 29 to receive proposals from interested developers for mixed-use developments, including those with affordable housing. Council members will return Aug. 9 after their summer break to weigh in on the PSV deal and other McKalla proposals.

Nazor said the Sierra Club has not taken an official stance on what development should occur at McKalla Place.

“Whatever you build here, it should not damage the watershed further,” he said.

Find more information about McKalla Place here.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area. As senior editor, she is the point person for the company's partnership with Fox7 Austin.
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