Growth and the interests of real estate developers commanded the discussion among candidates vying to represent Austin’s wealthiest district Tuesday night. City Council Member Sheri Gallo, who has held the District 10 Council seat since she was elected in 2014, sat alongside candidates Alison Alter, Nick Virden and Rob Walker fielding questions from residents.
With four challengers, this race is the most crowded of the races for Austin City Council. While that made for a lengthy forum, discussion never strayed far from the issues of growth and affordability – and who should be at the table when creating policies to manage these challenges.
“I think everyone should be involved in the process,” said Gallo when asked whether real estate developers should be involved in CodeNEXT, the city’s process of rewriting the Land Development Code. “Every single person who lives in this community...regardless of what they do for a living.”
Challenger Alter said she had reservations about that approach.
“When we allow people who are paid lobbyists to write the rules, it really puts people who are the everyday Joe at a disadvantage,” said Alter, who served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board before being removed after announcing her intention to run against Gallo, who had appointed her.
Walker, an international task consultant, agreed with Alter, while Virden, a recent UT Austin graduate, indicated that he took little issue with having developers at the table.
Naturally, discussion moved to the Grove at Shoal Creek, the mixed-use development which sits in District 10. Among the district’s candidates, Gallo is the lone supporter of the development as currently proposed. In contrast, Alter, Walker and Virden expressed concern about the amount of parkland the developer would be providing, plus the impact the density would have on traffic.
In its place, Walker threw out an unusual proposal: transform the land into a “northern Zilker Park.” At one point, Virden said, sure, let’s do that.
While the four answered questions in turn, the outright squabbling was left to Alter and Gallo. Gallo defended her work on the new rules governing the city’s new parkland dedication fees, while Alter said she did not believe the fees required developers to forgo a fair amount of land. “We did not come out with an ordinance that is going to secure parkland,” Alter said.
In their closing statements, the candidates reiterated many of the concerns commonly heard around the city. For Virden, that was affordability, and the recent grad Virden used the fact that he is still living with his parents as an example of how the city’s real estate market makes housing unattainable for some. Walker emphasized fiscal responsibility and his expertise in taxing as a special skill he could bring to Council. Alter and Gallo, who have established themselves as front runners in the four-person race, both reiterated how each would best listen to the needs of residents.
Correction: This post initially stated that the Grove sits in District 7 . It sits in District 10. We regret the error.
This story was produced as part of KUT’s reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.