Author Archives: westlake editor

A Cautionary Tale – Field of Dreams of Henly


Field of Dreams
A CAUTIONARY TALE

What is happening out in Hays County is unfathomable to most of us. We live in the foothills of the Texas Hill Country and are accustomed to its dark skies and quiet nights.

Just miles down the road in the unincorporated town of Henly, where no rules and no holds barred are the only rules for commercial developers, a nightmare started just six months ago.

It is a nightmare that has resulted in too many losses and no community gains: gone are the dark skies, quiet nights, scenic vistas and quality of life. In the months since the Field of Dreams has opened, small businesses are losing revenue; residential property values are plummeting; and, local nearby livestock can no longer differentiate between night and day. Henly is losing its Hill Country heritage.

Shortly after construction of the Select/Tournament Hosting baseball facility in April 2013, residents noticed things had changed. Like any good neighbor, they approached the owners of these for-profit sports fields in the hopes of working out a peacable solution to address their concerns. Unfortunately, they were informed by the owners, Mr. John Martin (owner and CEO of Austin Select Baseball) and Mr. Calvin Lockhart (owner and residential electrical contractor who installed the sports lights) that they had bought that property because it was in an unrestricted area and that they, as the owners could do anything they wanted, and that they, as the neighbors and longtime residents, couldn’t “do anything about it.”

According to Mr. George Milner, one of the neighbors who had approached the developers, “It’s a nightmare out here. Literally, intruding into dozens of houses. It ruins your way of life. It turns it into a big train wreck.” He also says, “These developers. They always tell you what you want to hear and then go ahead and do what they want to do.” In fact, “they lied to the original property owners of the site in order to get it. They duped an elderly 80-some year old couple.” According to Mr. Milner, the family, whose ranch is immediately adjacent to the Field of Dreams, has been most impacted. “They can’t work their ranch the way it was intended to be worked. You’ll see goats just laying around in the shine of all the lights at 10:00PM at night as if it were daytime. The Troppy’s not only have the disruption to their ranch but also all the noise from 6:30AM to well past midnight. They have the trash and litter people throw on their property. They have people trespassing onto their land and urinating on it. They have all the traffic. Their property was devalued by 48% by the Hays County Appraisal Office because of their adjancy, just this year alone.”

Mr. Milner and his neighbors have dedicated themselves to working it out with the developers. To facilitate finding a resolution, their Precinct 4 County Commissioner organized a town meeting in June. Mr. Milner says, “We had a town hall. 100 people showed up. The whole purpose of the meeting was to start a dialogue between the ballpark owners and the residents. To work out some sort of solution. We’re not anti-business. We just want them to be neighborly.” The response to their outreach efforts was to shut the neighbors down. “We say we are having problems with the light trespass and glare, and they say they are not going to do anything about it. They can’t fix the lights until they generate revenue, and if we have issues with the lights, then we might want to help pay for their modifications.”

Sadly, the conclusion reached by the Henly residents is despite the developers claim that “They say they are promoting a youth sports and doing a community service,” they, in fact, “are strictly out there to make money.” If you factor in the number of fields, the numbers of cars and people, and the number of games per field per day for Select Baseball play, they could potentially make up to $45,000 a day on a busy weekend. Ultimately, it is about their bottom line. And, what is left for the families who live and work there is a fight. A fight to find a way to retro-fix all the damages and nuisances that could have been prevented.

For the citizens of Henly, the Field of Dreams is a never-ending nightmare.

Field of Dreams: Quick Facts

The Field of Dreams is an 18 acre parcel of flat land situated in the unincorporated town of Henly. It consists of 9 Baseball/Softball Fields, Batting Cages, and Concessions constructed and covering property/lot line to property/lot line. It is owned principally by Austin Select Baseball CEO John Martin and COO Sean Kinkaid but has an additional 13-15 private investors.

Of those 9 fields, 8 are for youth aged Select players, and 1 is for senior aged Select players with No Adult usage. All fields are lighted. The total number of 40ft. tall lighted poles is 23. They use 170 fixtures of 1,500 watt high density discharge sports lights for a total aggregate of 255,000 watts of unshielded light emitted when all fields are lighted.

Because of the size and maximum use of space, this development can host up to 80 teams per week and is marketing itself as an a Select athletic destination in order to host regional, state, and national events. It sits off of a 2 lane straight country road with informal parking and has had as many as 300-400 vehicles, including RV’s, on a busy day, which translates roughly into 700-800 people in foot traffic on the site.

River Hills Sports Park: Quick Facts

The River Hills Sports Park is proposed to be developed on 50 acres on a parcel of land straddling and sitting atop 2 prominent hilltops located in the City of Austin and Travis County Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). Its site plan currently consists of 8 Baseball/Softball Fields and 4 Multi-Purpose Fields for Soccer, Lacrosse, Rugby and Football, 3 Tennis Courts, 8 Batting Cages, Concessions, and a 60,000 Square Foot Indoor Multi-sports Facility. Plans also include 669 Parking Spaces.

Both Adult and Youth leagues/teams/players may access and utilize the complex. With 365 days a year use allowed by lease… hours theoretically extending from 6:00AM-10:00PM, depending on season, but practically anticipated to run until games are done… no provision for enforcement by the landlord of any lease criteria including lights and sound… and lease language which allows not only for Tournament-Hosting but also which will allow the site to be outsourced for other currently unspecified, revenue-generating events, it is safe to say that this is no mere park.

It is a Mega-Sportsplex designed for high density, high frequency usage in order to maximize revenue.

Conclusion

The River Hills Mega-Sportsplex is designed to exceed the Field of Dreams in size, scale and scope. Unlike Henly, though, it will sit 200 ft above surrounding neighborhoods on our distinctively steep hilltops in the Texas Hill Country. Because of this unique location and its massive topographic footprint, the projected reach and scope of our light trespass will be without precedent at more than 20 square miles.

Henly’s nightmare will be ours ten-fold…unless we tell our decision makers that this offense to our community is unacceptable and urge them not to turn a blind eye to this monumental light trespass as it goes through the permitting process with City of Austin. Help to protect and preserve our dark skies by emailing now. Before we find ourselves trying to mitigate the unmitigatable.

Find out what the Austin-American Statesman wrote on Sunday, November 10th about Henly’s Light Pollution Plight by clicking here (requires subscription).

Read letter of support for WNA’s efforts from the local chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), by clicking here.

Read the letter of support from the Austin Astronomical Society by by clicking here

EMAIL CITY COUNCIL AT:

Bc-lee.leffingwell@austintexas.gov

Bc-sheryl.cole@austintexas.gov

Bc-chris.riley@austintexas.gov

Bc-mike.martinez@austintexas.gov

Bc-kathie.tovo@austintexas.gov

Bc-laura.morrison@austintexas.gov

Bc-bill.spelman@austintexas.gov

EMAIL ZONING AND PLANNING COMMSSION (ZAPCO):

Bc-betty.baker@austintexas.gov

Bc-gabriel.rojas@austintexas.gov

Bc-cynthia.banks@austintexas.gov

Bc-jason.meeker@austintexas.gov

Bc-patricia.seeger@austintexas.gov

Bc-sean.compton@austintexas.gov

Bc-rahm.mcdaniel@austintexas.gov

EMAIL ENVIRONMENTAL BOARD AT:

Bc-marygay.maxwell@austintexas.gov

Bc-robin.gary@austintexas.gov

Bc-james.schissler@austintexas.gov

Bc-robert.deegan@austintexas.gov

Bc-maryann.neely@austintexas.gov

Bc-marisa.perales@austintexas.gov

Bc-jennifer.walker@austintexas.gov

Thank you for your support and time.


October 9th, 2013: RIVER HILLS MEGAPLEX LEGAL BATTLE CONTINUES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

RIVER HILLS MEGAPLEX LEGAL BATTLE CONTINUES

Despite upcoming ruling, appeals process to leave legality of lease uncertain for years

Austin, Texas – October 9th, 2013

The proposed River Hills Sports Complex would place a huge sports facility on the top of a hill in a quiet neighborhood. In addition to creating unprecedented light and sound pollution over a widespread area that includes some of the areas most scenic hill country, Lake Austin and Emma Long Park, it will expose residents and participating children to dangerous traffic conditions. Although originally advertised as “just for the kids,” the Complex is facilitated by an inappropriately generous Eanes Independent School District (EISD) lease, which provides extensive flexibility to host Adult Leagues and Tournaments and exempts EISD from any responsibility of monitoring or enforcing lease restrictions and property conditions.

In addition to the lawsuit currently being held in Travis County District Court, over 50 people in the area have filed a complaint with EISD over the lease. Regardless of the outcome of upcoming rulings, the appeals process is likely to leave the legality of the lease and the status of the project uncertain for years.

The lawsuit and preliminary hearing being heard in Travis County District Court:

A preliminary hearing on the lawsuit was held last week on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 in the Travis County District Court. The lawsuit was brought by a group of area neighbors against Western Hills Little League (WHLL) and EISD in April 2013 over their lease of school property for the proposed development of the River Hills Sports Complex. According to the petition filed with the court, EISD is required by Texas law to utilize school land for a school purpose. The use of EISD’s school land for the construction of a for-profit, adult-use, recreational sport complex is not an educational purpose, does not advance EISD’s mission as established by the Legislature, and therefore is not, under law, allowed. Furthermore, the petition claims that the lease terms amount to a sweetheart deal for WHLL, were obtained under highly questionable circumstances and should result in the lease being null and void.

EISD is claiming sovereign immunity as a defense in this case. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine by which the sovereign or state is granted legal immunity from civil suit or criminal prosecution claiming that the ”sovereign is exempt from suit (on the) practical ground that there can be no legal right against the authority that makes the law on which the right depends.” It alleges that it functions above the law because it makes the laws. It is a historical concept predicated on the maxim that the King can do no wrong. While claiming sovereign immunity for itself, EISD goes on to disclaim the rights of the plaintiffs. It claims that they do not have standing as citizen taxpayers to the district and are not uniquely damaged by the lease, despite their proximity to the proposed complex. It additionally complains that the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to going to court.

The judge intends to rule on certain limited issues regarding the case in the next week or so. It is anticipated that the party that does not prevail in this situation will likely appeal the rulings in another process that could take up to 18 months from the date of appeal. At that point, depending on the outcome from the courts, the case could proceed back to District Court and be set for trial to determine the propriety of issues surrounding the lease and its legal status.

A Second Path to Justice:

EISD, in August 2013, passed a Second Amendment to the WHLL lease. The Second Amendment grants WHLL the right to sublease the property, the right to conduct revenue-generating activities on it, and the right to provide services to non-EISD groups or organizations. It effectively expands not only the nature of the Complex but also multiplies its activity. The Second Amendment goes on to refine and grant the privilege of preferred status to WHLL so that they may buy the property should the district decide to sell it. Lastly, in an earlier amendment, EISD agreed to redraw the lease boundaries in a manner more favorable to WHLL and increased the leased property by 1.8 acres for no additional compensation. These collective amendments have functionally created a new lease between the parties and have subsequently opened the lease to further scrutiny and potential legal action. WNA estimates that over 50 area residents have recently filed formal administrative complaints with EISD about the WHLL lease. They are complaining about many issues and have asked that the lease be ruled void at this time.

These administrative complaints are first heard at the school district level and go through the district’s hearing and appeals process. If the complaint is not resolved at that level, then it can be appealed to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in a process that could take an additional 6 months from the date of filing with that agency. Once the TEA process has been complete, the case would be filed in the District Court system and its appeals process, potentially resulting in several years passing before the final status of the lease is actually determined.

Bill Moriarty, President of WNA says, “We represent nearly 1,000 area residents, and our organization has complained to WHLL and EISD about issues with the land lease for over two and a half years. WNA supports the legal action our residents have taken in the district court as well as the recent action taken by over 50 concerned citizens through the administrative complaint process. We know frustration with this proposed project is building every day and that the district and WHLL have not been responsive to the issues that we’ve raised, but we encourage everyone to be patient and to keep letting your voices be heard. EISD and WHLL need to know that we are in this for the long haul because we truly believe this is in the best interest of our neighborhoods and in the best interest of the Westlake community”.

Background:

Two years ago, EISD granted a controversial 50-year lease to Western Hills Little League to develop a 50-acre Sports Complex on land that was being held by the district as a potential school site. The property is located on top of a hill 1.1 miles into a quiet western Travis County neighborhood with no nearby commercial development. River Hills Rd. is the only access road to the tract, and it is a narrow, two-lane road with no shoulders in most areas and many blind 90-degree curves. The intersection leading to the site does not have a traffic signal and is dangerous because of the speed of traffic on Bee Caves Rd. and a nearby hilltop that blocks the view of the intersection.

Mr. Moriarty explains, “In addition to issues with the lease, we have voiced our strong concerns about traffic safety issues, environmental issues, adult usage of the “Youth” complex, light and noise issues, and the for-profit nature of parts of the project. WNA has commissioned a traffic study to analyze the traffic from the sports complex, and it projects that traffic back-ups will exceed one mile, block emergency services to residents, and cause the throngs of sports visitors to be exposed to a dangerous left turn at an intersection without a signal. We have asked for a full traffic signal at this intersection, and at this time, we understand that TxDot is considering half-measures that are unsuitable and potentially dangerous solutions.”

Mr. Moriarty goes on to add, “This project is huge, and it’s not in the right location. To place a high intensity use facility, with a parking lot the size of a Wal-Mart, including twelve active sports fields and a 60,000 square foot indoor complex, on property with extreme access issues is irresponsible. Most regional sized complexes like this one are located next to major road corridors to safely handle the traffic.”

Ed MacInerney, an area resident, says “Residents in our neighborhoods have been very supportive of youth sports over the years. However, this proposed development has too many issues. The Sports Complex will create huge traffic safety issues as well as environmental and water quality issues. Recently, there was a serious accident when a car and a motorcycle collided on one of the blind curves near the proposed sports complex site. This is a dangerous road and will only be made worse if the complex is built at this location. We have asked the developer to provide solutions, and we simply haven’t gotten any.”

Norbert Wangnick, a resident of Seven Oaks agrees adding that “There are over a dozen nearby subdivisions that will be negatively impacted if this development goes in. Other neighborhoods, even off of Loop 360 and the other side of the lake are realizing the significant impact that comes from putting a huge sports complex with bright ball field lights and loudspeakers on a hilltop. Most people don’t realize this site is only a few hundred yards away from Lake Austin and is directly across from Emma Long Park. We have voiced our concerns about light and noise pollution to WHLL for over two and one-half years to no avail. Furthermore, attempts to limit the use to area children have been rejected – apparently in hopes of hosting adult leagues and large regional tournaments.”

Much better alternative locations are available. Lewis Talbert, another area resident says, “Western Hills challenged us to find an alternate site for their fields, and we have done that. We have recommended that they consider another EISD property, the Baldwin Tract, which is just a couple of minutes west on Bee Caves Rd. It’s larger, with better topography and is located next to a commercial area that has excellent, safe access for high traffic volumes making it much safer for families going to and from the complex. The School District has indicated a willingness to consider this site. Our residents are committed to working with the various youth organizations in hopes of finding a better solution that works for the entire Westlake Community.”


Was this email forwarded to you? Click Here to receive news, updates, & notices direct!

For information about this project please click here to see our website or click here to send an email to request more information from the Westlake Neighborhood Alliance (Note: this will create a new email message).

About the Westlake Neighborhood Alliance:

The Westlake Neighborhood Alliance (WNA) is an association of nearly one thousand nearby residents who are actively opposing the Commercial-Sized, For-Profit Complex known as the River Hills Sports Park. Our diverse groups of residents live in neighborhoods along both 2244 and 2222 including River Hills, Canyon Oaks, Seven Oaks, Rob Roy on the Lake Section One, Rob Roy on the Lake Section Two, Rob Roy, Rob Roy on the Creek, Lake Hills, Estates of Carriage Crossing, Wood Island, and 2222 CONA.

http://nottherightsite.com/

Westlake Neighborhood Alliance

William Moriarty, President
wmoriarty@austin.rr.com
Phone 512-422-3731


Not responsible for typographical, technical, or descriptive errors. This e-mail can be distributed in its original form, complete and without any modification, alteration, insertion, or anything else that would make this different from the original intent.
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Eye on Eanes followup & Sunday 9/15 Searchlight event

Wednesday, August 28th 2013 Update
Residents of the Eanes School District gathered together with their neighbors and a host of new faces from the City of Austin to attend the most recent school board meeting. Agenda Action items XII B. Consider Ratification of First Amendment to Lease with Western Hills Little League and XII C. Approval of Second Amendment to Lease with Western Hills Little League brought out concerned citizens en masse.

During the Open Forum, one person after another came to the podium to voice the unchanged and unaddressed concerns for site of the proposed development by WHLL and its for-profit & not-for-profit. There were also surprise speakers who drove, from all over the City of Austin and from Pflugerville, to speak out against the use of this RHR site as a Mega-Sportsplex and encouraged the board not to amend the lease at this time. Rather, they urged them to look at all the alternative uses for this land and identify alternative sites for the complex.

The President of the Austin Astronomical Society came and spoke out in favor of the preservation of our dark skies and of her great concerns for their loss should this hilltop site be developed into a Mega-Sportsplex. The Founder of Please Be Kind to Cyclists came and spoke out in favor of safety and mobility of the cyclists who ride on RHR and for his grave concerns for their safety should the traffic exponentially increase on RHR with the construction of a Mega-Sportsplex at that site. A former Sam Bass Baseball League Board Member came and spoke out on the inherent dangers of placing a Tournament Hosting Sportsplex at this particular site and on what is the day to day reality of a Tournament Hosting site. Even, one of our favorite Austin celebrities came and spoke out in favor of finding the right site for a complex of this size and scale and for working together collaboratively to do so.

Despite data outlining the safety/traffic/water/environmental issues inherent to this site… despite a growing, visible and audible concern from across Central Austin for this issue…and despite a $5 million dollar offer on the table for purchase of the RH property by 2 local residents, an offer which proposed to use the land responsibly and to create an outdoor education site for Eanes (click here to see the offer)…The School Board voted 6-1 to support the amendments and carry on with their lease, Only Dr. Jones stood in opposition to the amendments and spoke out in favor of fiscal responsibility and accountability for the district.

What do the amendments mean?
No draft of the proposed amendments, to the Eanes-WHLL lease, was available for review prior to the meeting by the general public. The first opportunity, which was afforded to concerned citizens to review them, came at 9:05PM the evening of August 28th at the regular School Board meeting. In these amendments, Eanes ISD grants WHLL the new right to sub-lease the school property and the new right to operate a FOR-PROFIT business on same property. In return, Eanes ISD is awarded an illusory right to use the property during the school day when students are in school. It also abrogates Eanes ISD from any right to enforce the lease criteria, including but not limited to light and noise. (click here to see the amendments)

What is a Tournament Hosting Sportsplex?
Angie Goertz, a former Director of Publicity and Assistant Tournament Director on the Sam Bass Baseball Board, came to the August 28th meeting and spoke on Tournament Hosting sites. The 2011 Eanes-WHLL lease clearly includes wording which outlines the site and its proposed development to be used for Tournaments and Playoffs on the last page of the document (click here to see the original lease)

A tournament-hosting site is one that is utilized as much as possible because it is a commercial, for-profit, revenue-generating machine. According to Ms. Goertz in a one on one phone interview, “The minute they say Tournaments. That is a red flag to you. I don’t think you can comprehend the day to day reality unless you live it. They can tell you everything you want to hear, but the reality is they will not want to severely negate their ability to make money. So, if they say the lights will go off at 10PM, do you think that, after they market to hundreds of teams across Texas and the country, they will risk forfeiting their money by turning off the lights at 10PM and stopping the games so that pool play isn’t met by all the teams? They will do what is necessary not to cancel games. Games are rained out. There are delays all the time. They do not want to cancel. If they do, these select/travel teams will not come back. The facility will die on the vine. Out in Round Rock, I’ve seen games start at 2AM because of rain delays; softball is even more games because they have to get in 5 games per pool play. And, don’t forget, that there are ceremonies after everything. Do you think they are going to do that in the dark?”

Additionally, she says,”You need to know who they are marketing to. If it is select ball, that is big business. And, there is no reason to build a facility like this if they are not going to use it for Tournaments. Doesn’t make any sense. Also, you need to know if they will host Adult Leagues, Semi-Pro Leagues. That opens a whole other can of worms. Drinking, trash/littering, and later games. Baseball and softball are year-round sports and do not end at the youth level.

Finally, she said, “Do you we need something like this in Austin? Absolutely! Not this location. This is not the right place for it. You have to face the reality of the road.”

WRAP-UP
All in all, it was an eye-opening meeting! It was wonderful to see how many people care about what is going on in our little corner of Austin and how they are willing to come out and be counted. The good news about the amendments is that the Interlocal Agreement was not conveyed to the developers. For that, we are thankful.

Please stay at the ready as the permitting process continues in the City of Austin. And, please look outside your windows and from our back-porches this Sunday night, September 15th from 7:30-10:30PM as we host one more night of searchlights to wake everyone up and to see, just a small portion, of what will be happening to our dark skies should this Mega-Sportsplex be built as currently planned.
Picture of the anticipated area of impact by light trespass and noise pollution if the project is built.
   Above is a picture of the anticipated area of impact by light trespass and noise pollution if the project is built.

Was this email forwarded to you? Click Here to receive news, updates, & notices direct!  For information about this project please click here to see our website or click here to send an email to request more information from the Westlake Neighborhood Alliance (Note: this will create a new email message). Not responsible for typographical, technical, or descriptive errors. This e-mail can be distributed in its original form, complete and without any modification, alteration, insertion, or anything else that would make this different from the original intent.  This e-mail has been sent from http://nottherightsite.com/ | All Rights Reserved, Copyright 2013

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