Render of Violet Crown Amphitheater, a proposed outdoor site to be located in southwest Austin; the mixed-use development would also include a driving range, residences, offices and parking lots (Provided by Christine Haas Media)
Several leading central Texas environmental organizations have announced their unified opposition to ambitious plans Violet Crown Amphitheater, a proposed 20,000-seat venue billed as Austin’s answer to Colorado’s historic Red Rocks Amphitheater. Development, which is surrounded by Nature conservation‘s Barton Creek Habitat Reserve and the cove itself, has plans for luxury apartments, a driving range, a distillery, and a nightclub, but Mike Clifford of Grand Edwards Aquifer Alliance says it’s the amphitheater itself – slated to have one of the largest orchestras in the United States – it’s the main problem: “If they just wanted to do regular development, it would be difficult to have an environmentally friendly site … but it could be done. “
The problems predicted by GEAA, TNC and allies Save Our Springs Alliance, the Lone Star chapter of Sierra Club, and Saving the Barton Creek Association include noise pollution, increased traffic on Texas 71 and Southwest Parkway, damaging runoff in Barton Creek, and damage to endangered species golden-cheeked warbler and the vulnerable black-crowned vireo, the two songbirds whose habitat is protected in the reserve. “Some of the best habitats for the Golden-cheeked Warbler in Travis County would be severely compromised by traffic, light and noise that a development of this magnitude would create,” the Nature Conservancy website states. Clifford explains that the amplified music could force songbirds to flee to another part of the reserve, which would increase competition and reduce survival rates: “The purpose of the reserve is to give them habitat, it is not. not to make them run to the other side of the reserve to escape this artificial monstrosity. “
Another concern is the effect of construction runoff. Clifford points to the increasing prevalence of toxic algae in Austin’s waterways, which thrive on nutrients flowing into streams from upstream developments: “The fact that [algae] showed up at Sculpture Falls [on Barton Creek] tells us that we are developing too much. The problematic nutrients, he continues, “come from septic tanks, sewage, agricultural runoff, fertilizers, pets. As soon as you start pushing people into nature, you have nutrient issues. “
In response to these concerns, Craig bryan, president of International development management, says: “Everything I do on this project, I want to do at a higher level than planned. This includes eight water retention sites that the City of Austin can inspect each year, sediment filters and restrictive covenants to prevent the use of pesticides or herbicides. Jim wittliff of Earth Answers, the project’s code consultant, points out that part of the site was initially closed in 1981 and could be protected by less restrictive codes. “We are voluntarily limiting the entire site to the current code, which is 20% waterproof coverage”, as specified in the 1992 Save our source ordinance. While the state is not required to study the project’s impact on traffic on Texas 71, the developers are conducting an analysis at the request of the Travis County Commissioner’s Court.
“We are happy to provide whatever is requested of us,” continues Bryan. “We want to make sure everyone understands that we have thought through these issues and are fixing them before they arise.” It also emphasizes creating an endowment “that focuses on preserving nature we don’t even touch”.
Clifford is not convinced that mitigation tactics will be sufficient to protect Barton Creek. “We have very strict requirements for construction in the Barton Creek watershed… and even with all of that, we have these toxic algae issues. Ultimately, water doesn’t lie and is an indicator of whether we are doing our job as stewards of the environment. Water tells us that we are failing. The city expects the project to be considered by council next year.