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Austin light-rail planners nix plans to acquire Dirty Martin's amid lawsuit

Light-rail planners no longer intend to seize some private property for the proposed line, including the land where Dirty Martin's Place, a burger restaurant suing over the project, is located.

Chase Rogers
Austin American-Statesman
The site Dirty Martin's Place should no longer be in peril from a planned light-rail line.

Austin's light-rail planners will forgo seizing some private property they previously said would be needed for the proposed line, including a burger restaurant suing the city over the project, in an effort to cut down on land acquisition costs.

The Austin Transit Partnership, the local government corporation established to build the system, announced Wednesday that its latest design of the rail line along Guadalupe Street between 27th and 29th streets and Riverside Drive 鈥 areas with high pedestrian volume and narrow right-of-way 鈥 now avoids conflicts with multiple buildings.

One of the buildings now not in conflict with plans is Dirty Martin's Place, a longtime burger restaurant and favorite of many University of Texas students due in part to its proximity to campus. The fate of the restaurant has been in question for more than two years.

Fearing for his business, owner Mark Nemir had asked Austin Transit Partnership to change its plans to seize the land Dirty Martin's Place sits on. He took his concerns public, drawing an outpouring of support for the nearly 100-year-old restaurant.

香港六合彩开奖直播:Why the future of iconic Austin restaurant Dirty Martin's could be in peril

A petition to save the restaurant garnered thousands of signatures. Bumper stickers pleading to "Save Dirty's" were handed out. When the Legislature considered legislation aimed at the light-rail proposal's finance model last spring, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican and UT graduate, got lawmakers takeout from Dirty Martin's for lunch.

The Wednesday announcement did not include the addresses or names of any of the buildings spared by the change of plans. When asked by the American-Statesman, a spokesperson acting on behalf of the Austin Transit Partnership provided a list of addresses.

There are five properties planners no longer need, four of which are on Guadalupe Street.

  • 2716陆 Guadalupe Street, where Mighty Mo's is located.
  • 2718 Guadalupe Street, where Abu Omar Halal, Smoke Paradise Vape and Dispensary and Asian Express are located.
  • 2800 Guadalupe Street, where a Whataburger is located.
  • 2808 Guadalupe Street, where Dirty Martin's Place is located.
  • 2906 Fruth Street, where The Ballroom @ Spiderhouse, an event venue, and Arlo鈥檚 Curbside are located.

The changes allow planners to prioritize spending on the proposed line's stations and urban design rather than on land acquisitions, said Lindsay Wood, Austin Transit Partnership's executive vice president of engineering and construction. A finance plan published last summer estimated the system would cost between $4.5 billion and $5.1 billion.

"One of our design principles is to maximize the use of our funds and dollars to build the elements of the light-rail system rather than purchasing land and buildings as much as possible," Wood said in an interview.

The light-rail proposal is the centerpiece of Project Connect, the $7.1 billion public transportation investment approved by Austin voters in 2020. Last summer, citing ballooning cost estimates due to inflation, the Austin City Council and transit officials approved a downsized version of the proposal: a 9.8-mile line that stretches north, south and east of downtown Austin.

The impact of building the light-rail system 鈥 which will have 13 to 16 stations, an operations and maintenance facility in East Austin, and a number of smaller maintenance and storage facilities 鈥斅爎emains to be seen. Wood said some land acquisitions would still need to be made for the system.

Austin Light Rail plans.

Last week, the Austin Transit Partnership kicked off a series of open house events as part of a federal environmental review. This fall, as part of the 1陆-year-long review, transit officials will publish what is called a draft environmental impact statement, a document likely to be the most detailed account to date of the project and its impacts.

Changes to light-rail plans on Guadalupe Street, Riverside Drive

The proposed light-rail alignment along Guadalupe Street has not changed, Wood said, but the latest plans call for more consideration for plans to eliminate roadways for the Drag, a portion of the street on the western edge of the UT campus.

Wood said the properties are no longer needed, in part, because of plans to relocate bus and bike lanes to adjacent streets.

On Riverside Drive, west of Interstate 35, the latest design removed some conflicts with Riverwalk Condos, a condominium complex at 500 E. Riverside Drive.

Planners now expect to relocate bus and bike lanes from the Drag along the UT campus to adjacent streets.

Plaintiff in ongoing lawsuit spared from possible acquisition to make room for light-rail line

The fate of Dirty Martin's Place, a Guadalupe Street burger restaurant that opened nearly a century ago, has been in limbo for more than two years.

In October 2021, Austin Transit Partnership officials met with Nemir, to inform him that the light-rail plans, then only about 15% designed, were "looking likely" to require the acquisition of the property, records obtained by the Statesman show.

Dirty Martin's Place is now a plaintiff in a legal challenge against Project Connect. The lawsuit, filed last fall, claims city leaders misled voters in the period leading up to the November 2020 election and asks for a halt to collecting property tax funding for the project. The plaintiffs held a news conference inside the restaurant to publicize the challenge. (The city has denied these claims, court records show.)

Mark Nemir, owner of Dirty Martin's Place, speaks at a press conference announcing a lawsuit against the City of Austin and the Austin Transit Partnership in 2023 at Dirty Martin's Place near the University of Texas. The lawsuit alleges that changes in Project Connect since it was approved by voters in 2020 are significant enough that the project no longer has voter approval.

The Wednesday announcement that Dirty Martins Place would be spared was welcomed by Nemir, though he remains concerned about the restaurant's future when plans call for removing road traffic from the Drag.

"I'm cautiously thrilled," Nemir said in an interview. "But the lawsuit is not about saving Dirty's."

The lead attorney in the lawsuit, Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County judge and tax assessor/collector, said Austin Transit Partnership's Wednesday announcement would not undercut the lawsuit, which he said will push forward.

Whether the lawsuit factored into planners' reevaluation of property acquisitions on Guadalupe Street is unclear. Woods deferred the question to Austin Transit Partnership's legal staff, which did not provide a statement Wednesday. Austin Transit Partnership has declined to comment on the lawsuit since it was filed.