Efforts to build a new racetrack in Austin, Texas, were dealt a blow last week when a local neighborhood council voted to oppose the Austin Jockey Club. The impact the action will have on the proposed track is unclear, because the council is not an official city agency, nor does it have any authority over local zoning changes.
The proposed site for the Austin Jockey Club facility is a 100-acre tract in southeast Austin. The site, in close proximity to an expansive new airport, is part of the city known as the Montopolis district. In October, the Montopolis neighborhood council voted to retain its status as a single-family residential area as part of an overall development plan.
That decision came despite repeated efforts by AJC officials to assuage the council's concerns -- one of which reportedly included traffic caused by a track that would draw "20,000 visitors a day, 365 days a year."
To gain further support for its position, the Montopolis council appealed to the Austin Neighborhoods Council to endorse its resolution. The Austin Neighborhoods Council, a citywide coalition of neighborhood associations whose motto is "strength through unity," provided that endorsement when it passed a resolution opposing a zoning change for Montopolis.
"I think the reason the Austin Neighborhoods Council passed the resolution is because they are very supportive of the neighborhood planning process," said Mike Blizzard, a political supporter who works on behalf of several Austin neighborhoods. "They feel very strongly that a neighborhood should be able to plan its own future. There is a portion of the Montopolis neighborhood dedicated to commercial development, but it is a much smaller tract of land than the proposed site."
Officials from the Austin Jockey Club -- a limited partnership made up of Retama Park chief executive officer Bryan Brown, American Quarter Horse Association director Barry Madden, and former Texas Thoroughbred Association president Joe Archer -- had attended several meetings of the Montopolis council, but insisted they were not invited to the Austin Neighborhoods Council meeting or informed that it would take place.
Though Blizzard contends the meeting was not "a forum for public debate," an AJC spokesperson was disappointed that track representatives were not allowed to present their case.
"I am deeply troubled by the way this resolution was passed," said John Joseph, an attorney who represents the AJC. "(The process) was just not fair. Their position might not have changed, but at least we would have been presented an opportunity to make our case."
Joseph said the AJC would continue its effort to enact a zoning change through the city's official regulatory agencies: the Austin Planning Commission and the Austin City Council.
Blizzard said the Montopolis and Austin neighborhood councils would continue to oppose the rezoning through a campaign entitled "Homes, Not Horses."