Former River Place water plant site to be dismantled, Paved parking lot considered adjacent to nature trail

Circle C resident Gary Rice prepares to hike the River Place Nature Trail Jan. 4. Photo by Leslee Bassman

River Place Nature Trail Some voice concerns of additional traffic  

By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News

Although no time frame has been established for the city of Austin to dismantle the River Place water treatment plant owned by the subdivision’s former municipal utility district, area leaders are considering turning the tract into a parking lot that could host about 100 vehicles. The lot would be accessible to the neighborhood’s renowned hiking and running trail.

“I had preliminary conversations with some of the (Austin) staff members if they would be amenable to us being able to take over that location after they decommission the facility,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the River Place Limited District, the group that assumed management of the neighborhood’s parks, trails and solid waste collection after River Place was fully annexed by the city of Austin Dec. 15. “If we did, my idea…was to be able to utilize that space for potential parking.”

The development’s water treatment plant usage will slowly be changed over from the former River Place MUD plant to Austin’s Water Treatment Plant No. 4 located on RM 620, Reilly said.

He declined to name the Austin staffers with whom he discussed the proposal.

The project would also entail closing the trail entrance currently located at the Woodland Park Boardwalk off Big View Drive and moving the trailhead to the area adjacent to the proposed parking lot, Reilly said, adding that he had spoken with the Limited District Board about this idea “on a few occasions.”

“This is all preliminary; no board action has been taken,” he said.

According to Reilly, Austin City Council would be required to approve the new use for the tract. River Place Limited District funds—supported by the neighborhood’s residents—would be used to create the potential parking lot and relocate the Woodland Park trailhead to the new parking area, he said.

Geneva Guerrero, public information and marketing manager for Austin Water Utility, confirmed that Reilly “had shown an interest in that property to be used for parking.”

“As when we do the demolition (of the former MUD water treatment plant) and we have that land, we would have to go through, as we do with any properties we want to sell, a city process to sell the land,” Guerrero said. “So, until the demolition is done and we decide to sell the land, there’s nothing concrete.”

Guerrero said the land value of the treatment plant tract is unknown at this time and the city goes through a process to put it up for sale and determine the value at the time. The plant site includes two buildings—one large and one small—as well as a covered area used for chemical storage, she said. The pump station site has one building, she said.

“It’s too early to tell what (buildings) will be demolished and what will be kept,” Guerrero said.

Increased traffic in River Place

However, some residents fear the additional parking would draw even more trail users, adding to an already crowded traffic situation in the community.

River Place residents Jennifer Mushtaler and Sally Wiley were members of a trail committee that met last spring and summer to address safety concerns, parking issues, traffic issues and pedestrian issues associated with the trail.

The committee—that included River Place residents as well as MUD board members Scott Crosby and Art Jistal—proposed the board charge a fee for nonresidents to use the trail at peak use times. In September, Crosby made a motion for the board to approve the committee’s proposal but the motion failed for lack of a second.

“We’re not against people using our trail,” Wiley said. “We love (the trail). We want other people to love it. It’s just really the (trail’s) effect on the neighborhood with the unbelievable car traffic.”

Groups have transported busloads of trail users to River Place from outside the community, she said.

“I think, as do most of the other committee members since we heard this (proposal), that this is just going to increase traffic,” Wiley said. “That is exactly what we are trying to work against. We’re just going to have more people coming and parking. I’m not against people using the trail; it’s more that the amount of traffic is a safety issue and the fact that River Place residents are now having a hard time. We don’t go to the (Woodland) Park at all during peak hours because you can’t enjoy it anyway.”

However, she said no committee members were informed that the board was discussing a proposal to convert the MUD water treatment plant tract into a parking lot with Austin officials.

“Our bigger beef is that (the board) has been doing this behind everybody’s back, talking to the city, and nobody ever said anything to us,” Wiley said. “I get it. I think the (River Place) trail is the best trail in Austin. We paid for it and (traffic) is now going to be increasing with a large parking lot.”

Reilly said the issue of converting the former MUD water treatment plant tract into a parking lot has been discussed by the MUD board during its meetings which are held at 2 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month, a time Wiley and Mushtaler say is not convenient for working residents or parents readying to pick up their children from elementary school.

Because no action by the board was taken regarding converting the tract after the water treatment plant is dismantled, Reilly said the board discussions about the proposal are not listed in the board minutes.

The River Place Trail Committee has asked to meet with Reilly about his dealings with city of Austin staffers.

“I just don’t know what our options are with the city at the moment,” Mushtaler said. “The committee was never made aware of this (parking lot) as a possible option and a possible solution. We want to balance having open access (to the trail) with some of the traffic issues and safety concerns and disturbances in the neighborhood. Somewhere in there, there has to be a healthy balance.”

RP water plant dismantle timeline

The takedown of the River Place Municipal Utility District water treatment plant is on the city of Austin’s Capital Improvement Project list which is currently being updated and prioritized, said Geneva Guerrero, public information and marketing manager for Austin Water Utility.

However, an exact start date to remove some or all of the facility has not been determined but will be scheduled “in the near future,” meaning demolition will begin in the next year or two, she said.

Photo credit Katie Trayser

The River Place Nature Trail is known for its beauty. Hiker Maddie took in the sights from Katie Trayser’s post at