Stephenson Nature Preserve is here to stay
By Keely Funari
Residents of District 5 won their land preservation battle of The Stephenson Nature Preserve and Outdoor Education Center, which will now be designated as a Public district.
The preserve is four miles of nature with winding trails and metal art sculptures scattered throughout the land. The preserve is located in the heart of Austin at the 7501 Longview Road off of William Cannon Drive. The land was granted to the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department in 1999, when the land was and still is to provide outdoor education to children in the Central Texas area.
As a part of CodeNEXT’s initiative, which was designed by a planning and zoning department in Austin, the preserve had been designated as a Planned Unit Development rather than a public district. A PUD allows the possibility of development on the designated land while a public district protects the land from being developed. In May, residents in District 5 decided to fight the designation and would prove to be successful when the resolution passed with a majority vote on June 15 in city council.
“Someone was following the CodeNEXT news and said, ‘Hey this sounds weird why would it be a PUD? What do you guys think about this?’” said Michele King, a District 5 resident whose property backs up to the preserve. “We made some noise and the message was heard.”
King said at the end of April, when she and other residents heard about CodeNEXT’s plans to designate the preserve as a PUD, they started doing some research and fought to get Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen involved. She said they began to contact Kitchen’s office with phone calls, emails, and tweets. Kitchen then pledged to the residents that she and her colleagues would make sure the Stephenson Nature Preserve had a public designation.
Suzann Dvorken, a District 5 resident of 12 years, said she actually found out about the designation of the preserve after receiving an email from Kitchen. She said after reading the email and seeing that the preserve was designated as a PUD, she felt deeply concerned.
Like King, Dvorken sent out an alert to the residents in her neighborhood and told them, “It’s time we do something.” Dvorken and other residents went to the District 5 meeting, held at Crockett High School on May 15.
“The second they were ready to take questions, I popped up like a jack-in-the box,” Dvorken said. “My friends and neighbors are here because we love the preserve and we want it to stay.”
Jorge Rousselin, project manager for CodeNEXT, said that he appreciated hearing everyone’s concerns and inputs at the meeting because it allowed them at CodeNEXT to gain a further understanding of the community and what they wanted. “It’s very important to get that kind of feedback for not only these types of projects but also on the maps itself,” Rousselin said.
He said he felt that designating the preserve as a PUD was essentially doing the same job as designating it as a public district and said they weren’t planning on building on the land as residents may have thought. He said he thinks residents just wanted tighter rules regarding how the land was being handled. He said in order for the designation to change, the residents needed a majority vote in council.
King said when she and other residents received the message from Kitchen that council had voted yes and a resolution for the preserve was passed that it felt really good. She said she feels Kitchen really did the right thing and “took it all the way through.”
King said the preserve is beautiful and said that the community really loves it. She said she enjoys seeing the different garden sculptures that artists from around the area create for the preserve. She said she thinks it’s little things like the “unique” sculptures that make keeping this preserve so important.
“The preserve is just a part of what makes Austin special and we love it and we want to keep it that way for nature, for the community and for the future generations,” King said.