Environmental code amendments that would facilitate a plan to rehabilitate and improve the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake got the go-ahead from the Austin City Council Thursday.

The amendments eliminate the existing 12-foot cap on the trail’s width and mandate a 1:1 ratio of watershed restoration programs per square foot of trail construction. According to Austin Parks and Recreation staff members, the updates will facilitate projects such as stormwater upgrades, trailhead connections, and safety lighting that current code restrictions make more difficult.

The amendments, which allow for exemptions from critical water quality zone rules protecting the lake, will also enable upgrades by private, nonprofit group the Trail Conservancy, to which the city turned over trail operations and maintenance in 2022. The amendments would also apply to other property owners that regulations allow to alter the trail.

The City Council initiated the process that resulted in the amendments last spring with the aim of bringing the trail into compliance with city code and improving safety and mobility according to guidelines set by a 2021 study. 

The code changes drew opposition from environmental groups and other Austin residents, with opponents of the code changes focused primarily on the effects they'd have on the larger plan for the trail as well as on the lake and its ecosystem.

The council approved the proposed changes with eight votes in favor and three members off the dais.