Grove fight in District 7 race highlights tensions caused by growth


It’s by a twist of geography that the biggest issue in this Austin City Council race doesn’t actually fall in District 7.

Just beyond the district’s southern boundary sits a 75-acre site where developers hope to build 1,700 homes and 360,000 square feet of office and retail space.

The nearby neighborhoods, many of which fall in Council Member Leslie Pool’s district, have organized in fierce opposition to the Grove at Shoal Creek development. Pool is a vocal critic of developer ARG Bull Creek’s current proposal, which returns to the council Oct. 20. Her challenger, Natalie Gauldin, co-founded a group campaigning for the project.

The fight over the Grove — and between Pool and Gauldin — has thrown into sharp relief a core tension underlying city politics: how to house the thousands of people Austin is adding every year through births and moves without displacing current residents or chipping away at the city’s culture and character.

“This is really becoming a race about who has the best vision for the future of Austin,” said Gauldin. She charges that Pool is part of a build-nothing cabal that would prefer to seal off Austin from the outside world.

“If you want development to just happen, and you want to subtract out government regulation from it, then I don’t know what you get, but it wouldn’t look like Austin,” Pool said.

Pool maintains that she isn’t opposed to growth and density. For instance, the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which she co-founded, called for a mixed-use development at the Grove site, albeit a smaller design that would have included far less retail and office space. But, she says, it must be done in conjunction with the neighborhoods that surround the development.

“The people who have told you I don’t want any development there are feeding you a line, and it isn’t true,” Pool added. “They have made it all up.”

Pool has gotten plaudits from good-government groups for leading the passage of tougher lobby and campaign finance reporting requirements. But she has earned the ire of some urban activists, like Gauldin, by opposing the Grove and voting against easing the rules on garage apartments, among other issues.

Pool raised twice as much money as Gauldin between July and September, but Gauldin’s campaign touted its grass-roots efforts “knocking on tens of thousands of doors.”



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