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Are You Seeing Red?

redHow do you feel about having an Arts District in Lakeway? During the March 16, 2015 City Council meeting, some residents argued for and against creating an Arts District within the city like the one proposed by city staff. The full video of the meeting is available to stream and below is a recap of the session from the Austin Statesman. When you are done, take our Yay or Nay Poll and let us know what you think!

The City Council directed city staff during the Jan. 20 meeting to proceed with investigation of creating a new zoning ordinance for the creation of an arts district within the city. The city is looking specifically at the 130-acre stretch of land behind the currently under construction Oaks at Lakeway shopping center on RM 620.

The land in question is currently mostly owned by the Lakeway Municipal Utility District, though portions are owned by Stratus Properties and parts are privately owned. Staff pitched the idea of an arts district as a proactive way to get in front of any potential sale and development of the land, according to Deputy City Manager Chessie Zimmerman at the Jan. 20 meeting. If the city waits to zone the land after a developer comes forward with a proposal, Zimmerman suggested, the city would have less control over what might be built on the acreage.

Since then, Zimmerman said at the March 16 meeting, the city has opened a citizen survey and performed several by-invitation forums with local artists and other stakeholders. The city is gathering citizen input on what the arts district might contain, Zimmerman said, although city staff envision an arts center surrounded by light retail, single family homes and parkland.

“Through research we’ve found there are three characteristics necessary for the viability of an arts district,” Zimmerman said. “The first is public investment, so council needs to have a discussion on whether we would build a road or wait for a developer. The next is residential density. … The number we’re looking at is 200 units, and that’s based on preliminary discussions and number running. The third is the integration of uses. We do have (planned utility districts) but none are truly mixed use.”

During citizen comments, residents railed against the idea of the necessity of an arts district, given the potential expense. Resident Jim Shanahan questioned why Lakeway suddenly needs an arts district.

“We have a high school, TexArts, an activity center and a library, which are all serving the arts at the moment,” Shanahan said. “(The) financial responsibility will be great, whether through a municipal bond or raising taxes. “Why would we want to bring more commercial development to the heart of a residential section when 620 is already overflowing? When the Lexus opens and the H-E-B opens it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse. I think a lot of people feel that something is being jammed down their throats.”

Other residents asked why the city’s arts district survey didn’t provide an option to say whether or not they supported the district at all.

“Let the people of Lakeway decide what they want, not a few people involved in the arts,” resident Vincent Maggio said. “We have enough arts in Austin. There are 13,000 people in Lakeway – that’s all. We don’t need an arts center.”

Janet Wright, former member of the Lakeway Arts Committee, spoke in favor of the potential arts district, saying artists in the area didn’t have enough space to show their artwork. Councilman Dave Taylor told city staff they ought to include a question about whether or not residents want the arts district in the first place but commended their efforts to get the information out to the public.