Fate of Austin Curling Center frozen in Sunset Valley

Olympic curling stone

SUNSET VALLEY, Texas (KXAN) – Developers of the unbuilt Austin Curling Center, who recently opened a bar on the center site, say the city of Sunset Valley froze their plans to create a sporting center that could have hosted Olympic trials, according to the developers and a federal lawsuit.

The developers, Anita Dunn and her husband Dennis, say they’ve been wrestling with Sunset Valley for seven years over building the curling center on their 1.7 acres at 6218 Brodie Ln. The Dunns say city officials initially expressed interest in the curling center in 2010 but then reversed course and blocked approvals for the sporting venue, such as a variance for impervious cover.

“They are stringing us along and stringing us along,” Anita Dunn said. “We aren’t going to play by their games anymore.”

While the Dunns say the city impeded their development, officials with the city said they were never provided a proper site plan for the curling center and that one does not currently exist.

Austin Curling Center, LLC site rendering (Courtesy: Anita and Dennis Dunn)
Austin Curling Center, LLC site rendering (Courtesy: Anita and Dennis Dunn)

At a city council meeting Tuesday night, the agenda outlined an executive session to allow discussion with city attorneys on the fate of two pending lawsuits. Although no formal action was taken on the matter, both the mayor and the couple said they’d like to move forward without the presence of lawsuits.

“I hope that we can come together with a spirit of communication,” said Anita, addressing the council during public comment. “Nobody wants to go to court here. I think there’s a way out of all of this that could benefit everybody. So, we’re willing if you’re willing.”

During a break in the meeting, Sunset Valley Mayor Rose Cardona told KXAN, “My hope would be that both lawsuits get dropped because really what’s in the best interest of everybody is to not have lawsuits. But also for the small business owner to be able to operate their business.”

Among a host of issues, the curling center was supposed to meet a requirement to keep the amount of impervious cover below 18 percent of the land area. Impervious cover is ground that can’t absorb rainwater, such as a roof or a paved parking lot.

Mayor Cardona said the plan for the curling center ultimately met the city’s 18 percent impervious cover threshold but only after the parking lot was reduced to two spaces. Cardona said she’s obligated to do “smart development projects” and what is best for the city.

“A curling center that’s Olympic-sized, that sounds wonderful. It’s a cool, unique thing that doesn’t exist anywhere in Austin. But should it be done at the cost of residents not being able to park on their street that they’ve, you know, had quiet for the last 30 years? No,” said Cardona. “In terms of compliance, everybody has to follow the same compliance in building their commercial property.”

The Dunns said the city moved the goalpost for their permit, making it impossible for them to satisfy city requirements, according to a lawsuit.

Sunset Valley is a tiny incorporated city within southwest Austin. It has a population of 750 and a $5 million budget. The city limits are roughly hemmed in by State Highway 71 to the north and Brodie Lane on the east.

A 'Keep Curling Weird' banner hangs at The Barn food truck park and bar that currently sits on the property. The Dunns purchased it with the intent to build an Olympic quality curling center. (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)
A ‘Keep Curling Weird’ banner hangs at The Barn food truck park and bar that currently sits on the property. The Dunns purchased it with the intent to build an Olympic quality curling center. (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)

Though the Dunns are still pushing for the sporting facility, city officials said the last site plan for the curling center was denied in 2013. Since then, the Dunns have spent thousands of dollars on engineering studies, revised plans, and drainage improvements, among other costs, to come into compliance with local regulations, Anita said.

“We sit here, frustrated to this day, after spending seven years with our engineer drawing things and putting it on the site plan, taking it off the site plan. They were never happy with anything,” she added. “It’s smoke and mirrors. It doesn’t matter what we give them, it doesn’t matter what they ask for, they’re never satisfied. There’s always something else.”

Though the Dunns offered to install rainwater harvesting, solar panels and pervious pavement, the city would not grant a variance for impervious cover, Anita added. Something the couple argues was implied — even agreed to — when they first brought the project to the city council in 2010 and officially in 2011.

“They were never happy with anything.”

“They knew going into that we needed parking. They saw the initial plans that were there and it had the parking spots. That’s why we asked for the additional impervious cover, but they just were not going to give it to us,” Dennis continued.

Before buying the property, the Dunns said they conferred with Sunset Valley officials who were positive about the prospect of a curling center. But shortly after the Dunns purchased the property, the city approved its own master plan that showed the city did not intend for the curling center property to be used for commercial, according to the lawsuit.

Had the Dunns known the city would approve that master plan, they would not have bought the property, Anita said.

“Work with us, not against us. We’re not trying to do anything with the city of Sunset Valley that they did not agree to do initially. We’re simply trying to make them honor an agreement,” she added.

The couple says they just can’t understand why the city wouldn’t want to be home to the facility–knowing how much potential it could have to grow its local economy.

“If a city is being responsible — fiscally responsible — I think that they would be more than willing to talk seriously with us about bringing a facility in here that not only benefits the community, but benefits their bottom line in terms of their annual financial income,” said Anita. “We could fill their hotels. We could fill their shops, their restaurants.”

Anita says had the facility moved forward — being a site for Olympic curling qualifying events — the expectation was Sunset Valley could have seen a boost of $6 million to its economy over a single year.

In the meantime, the Dunns have allowed food trucks on their lot. Most recently they used the land to open a beer garden on Oct. 27 called The Barn, to earn some income on their land investment. The property sits outside the city limits in Sunset Valley’s extraterritorial jurisdiction or ETJ. The Dunns say the ETJ location reduces Sunset Valley’s ability to impose property-use restrictions.

The tussle over the curling center has pulled both parties into court. In January 2015, Sunset Valley cited the Dunns for violations of Watershed Development and Signs chapters of the city’s Land Development Code. At the beginning of February that year, the city then sued the Dunns for violations of the land development code. This case is still pending.

The Dunns, through their business entity Austin Curling Center LLC, proceeded to file suit against Sunset Valley — about a week later in February 2015 — in Travis County District Court for alleged corruption, among other allegations. That lawsuit moved into federal district court, where it too is currently pending.

Regardless, the Dunns aren’t giving up.

“We’re still here. We’re still determined. We still want to build that curling facility. We want to bring curling to Austin,” the couple said.

Anita said the couple would considering buying another parcel of land adjacent to The Barn to build the curling center. More land would allow more impervious cover.

“It’s their right to buy their property and to pursue whatever they want and so, if they have plans to pursue a curling center,” Cardona said. “I just don’t know anything about it, yet.”

For more information about the Austin Curling Center, click here.

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