River Place residents Chuck Reynolds and Kate Holloway moved to their home in the Cortana Ridge neighborhood a couple of years ago. Reynolds said he uses the local, renowned trail at 8820 Big View Dr. about three times a week, a practice he may need to end early next month when the River Place Limited District begins charging nonmembers $10 per person and $10 per pet daily on weekends to use the trails.
Cortana Ridge, as well as other neighborhoods within the northern section of River Place are not part of the Limited District that was created in May, after the city of Austin fully annexed the subdivision in late 2017. Aside from providing solid waste services to its members, the Limited District now owns and maintains the subdivisions parks and nature trail.
Holloway and Reynolds, members of the River Place Homeowners Association, take issue that their neighborhood was not included in the May election which decided River Place would maintain a Limited District. When the couple went to vote for the Limited District, Reynolds said they were told they were not located in its boundaries.
“We had no voice in this,” Reynolds said of the vote to create a Limited District. “We lost access to our amenities. We lost access to the trails. We lost access to the tennis courts. We lost all of that without having any say in it whatsoever.”
Holloway said she wonders why, when the Limited District was established, its creators didn’t include the entire subdivision into the district. The area of River Place that lies outside of the boundaries of its Limited District had also not been included in the boundaries of the River Place Municipal Utility District that governed the subdivision prior to Austin’s annexation.
Limited District President Scott Crosby said residents of Cortana Ridge and other areas outside of the Limited District boundaries “certainly have a right to join the Limited District,” noting there is a process for those areas to join. However, since that process requires 50 percent of the land value to vote in favor of the Limited District to be annexed into the Limited District, the process that essentially gives more power to larger landowners.
Crosby said he initially wanted the Limited District to include all of River Place, but after reviewing the area in the subdivision’s northern section, he said those residents would not likely vote to join because the Limited District tax implications for the larger properties would not make the venture economically feasible.
Currently the Limited District charges $0.075 per $100 valuation to fund its budget for the parks, trails and solid waste disposal.
“If you look at those houses to the north, if you look at the value and what they would have to pay in terms of property tax (to the Limited District), they probably wouldn’t vote to be part of the Limited District,” Crosby said.
According to the 2018 Travis County Appraisal District records, home values on Merrywing Circle ranged from the mid-$400s to more than $2.1 million.
At the time of the election of the Limited District, Crosby said he did not bring up the idea of including all of River Place in the Limited District to the rest of the board. He said an election that included the approval of the Limited District itself as well as the approval of adding a new geographical section to the Limited District would have complicated the election and affected the approval of the Limited District as a whole.
Crosby said he would “welcome” Cortana Ridge residents to vote to join the Limited District.
Why charge a trail use fee?
In its Feb. 10 issue, the Four Points News reported the trail charge was initiated to manage the overcrowding on the trail, provide a safer environment on the streets surrounding the trailheads, and help fund the trail’s maintenance costs, Crosby said.
“It is only the Limited District residents who are currently paying 100 percent of the cost of the parks and trails,” he said. “We get zero dollars, zero support from the city of Austin for those parks and trails… We think it’s just fair to have those individuals who are using the trail share in the cost of that trail.”
Crosby said trail costs vary, similar to a new road that doesn’t need a lot of maintenance in its initial years of operation but will someday need to be repaved.
“That’s what we’re really focused on is the future as opposed to the past,” he said, adding the MUD spent $50,000 in one year on trail maintenance several years ago.
Holloway and Reynolds disagree.
“Their motivations have nothing to do with maintaining the trail,” Reynolds said of the Limited District board. “Their motivations are that they don’t want people coming into the neighborhood. They don’t want the traffic. They don’t want the people. And that’s why they are charging (to use the trails).”
The couple questioned how much of the Limited District budget is spent on the trails and parks, saying that not much has been done to the trails as far as maintenance is concerned, with much of the work performed by volunteers including himself and Holloway. Reynolds noted a trail volunteer workday is scheduled for the first day the Limited District is set to begin charging nonresidents for trail use, March 2.
They’re not alone. In response to the news about the fee, Wade Bozeman commented, “The fact that it was done exclusively to keep people out says enough.”
Still, resident Shawn Olsen said, “Maybe someone needs to to point out who pays for the trail!”
Neither Anderson Mill nor Lost Creek limited districts charge access fees for their trails.
Trail race competitor Robyn Sullivan said she moved from Steiner Ranch to the River Place area mainly to be closer to the trails she uses regularly. But, her new home is outside the Limited District.
“I used to drive from Steiner Ranch to River Place just to go to that trail three or four times a week,” Sullivan said. “That trail is very unique. It’s more difficult terrain so it is a great training ground for trail-type running.”
At first, Sullivan thought she would not be charged for using the trails because she is part of the River Place community and already paying River Place HOA fees, she said. Upon discovering she would be charged, Sullivan said “it doesn’t make any sense.”
Sullivan said she has volunteered to clean up the trail twice already and wouldn’t mind donating money to keep up the trail. But, the fact that she is considered a nonresident and would need to pay $40 weekly to maintain her trail regimen, has forced her to seek the advice of an attorney.
“So, that’s what I have an issue with,” Sullivan said. “I don’t understand why this trail is in my neighborhood, that I should be forced to pay.”