A public meeting held by City of San Antonio staff to address concerns surrounding the Brackenridge Park 2017 bond project got off to a rocky start Tuesday evening after advocates began to loudly voice frustrations about the format of the meeting and lack of a public input process surrounding the project.

The Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments held the first of three scheduled public meetings regarding the project Tuesday evening. They were scheduled after the city manager delayed the project last month following outcry from some local environmental advocates.

For the past three months, a group of wildlife proponents and activists have been pushing for the city to keep 10 heritage trees and roughly 90 smaller trees in Brackenridge Park slated for removal as part of the project to restore historic structures in the park.

Although the plan calls for the trees to be replaced once the work is completed, some activists say none of the trees should come down, regardless of their health or location. Others view the trees’ removal as just another front in the city’s ongoing “war on birds.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, a group that included city employees, landscape architects from partner design firm SWA Group and some city council members addressed the roughly three dozen attendees at the Witte Museum. They began by describing the project’s design process.

Several minutes into the presentation, however, community members complained about how the meeting was structured.

One community member, who declined to give her name to the San Antonio Report, said the meeting’s format allowed only city staff and experts to speak, rather than inviting open dialogue.

“I thought our opinions would be heard here,” she said. “But instead now we write them on a piece of paper, and hopefully somebody will read them.”

Indeed, community members had been invited to write their questions, concerns and comments down for the city staff and SWA Group employees to read by the meeting’s independent moderator Donna Carter, of Austin-based architecture firm Carter Design Associates.

Carter also told participants that at the end of the meeting, members of the public could have one-on-one discussions with city and SWA Group staff in an open breakout format.

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) took responsibility for the format of the meeting, which he suggested because he “specifically wanted everybody to have an opportunity” to talk to staff and designers about their concerns after being given more information on the design process.

At the conclusion of the meeting, McKee-Rodriguez told the San Antonio Report that while the meeting got off to “a rough start,” he was glad to see so many people stick around to participate.

He said the community will see changes in the format of the next meeting based on their feedback.

After the presentation, attendees spoke with city and SWA staff, and placed comments under specific areas of concern represented on large poster boards. Many did so for more than an hour.

Assistant City Manager David McCary called the meeting a “learning opportunity” to see how the public wanted to participate. In response to their feedback, for example, he decided to add an additional meeting to the original three.

The next two meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 26 and May 24, also at the Witte Museum. The fourth meeting will be scheduled soon, McCary said.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments or concerns about the project to the city at SASpeakUp.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.