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East Riverwalk open to public, 200 days ahead of schedule

City of Waco leaders were expecting excitement from bicyclists and runners when they opened the $5.4 million East Riverwalk on Friday.

What they did not anticipate, but were pleased to hear, was enthusiasm from anglers eager to try their hand at a new spot along the Brazos River, said Jonathan Cook, the city of Waco’s community promotions specialist.

The gates came down early Friday as the final construction boxes were checked, allowing visitors to use the new 0.6-mile addition along the Brazos River.

It provides the last link in a paved, lighted loop connecting Baylor University and Cameron Park along both banks of the Brazos.

“Hopefully people get out tomorrow and test it out,” Cook said Friday in anticipation football fans finding a new route to McLane Satdium.

The project came in about 200 days ahead of schedule.

Teams have worked in overdrive over the past month to get the riverwalk walkable in time for Baylor University’s home football game against the University of Texas on Saturday at 11 a.m., he said. Beating the deadline wouldn’t have been possible without coordinated efforts from the city, the Texas Department of Transportation, designers and contractors, he said.

“We all wanted to make sure and try and get it open for some of these final football games,” Cook said. “It’s a view that we haven’t had before.”

City of Waco leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 in the area near the parking lot of Buzzard Billy’s, 100 N. Interstate Highway 35.

“We definitely want to plug the fact we have a restaurant on the riverwalk,” Cook said.

Residents and visitors can now take a 5.5 mile continuous loop with no major street crossings along the river.

The new section of bike and pedestrian pathway stretches from McLane Stadium to the riverwalk’s old end at Franklin Avenue, crossing under several bridges and winding over the water on pillars along the way.

An 80-foot canopy covers the riverwalk as it crosses beneath an active railroad bridge. The 14-foot-wide riverwalk also crosses under the disused Cotton Belt railroad bridge.

A Federal Transportation Enhancement grant covered half the cost of the project.

“The Riverwalk is a safe, scenic path for pedestrians and cyclists, has numerous smaller loop options and will support runs and races in the downtown area,” according to a statement from the city.

Jay-Reese Contractors worked on the extension and is the same company that renovated the Washington Avenue bridge.

Artist competition starts for 'Sculpture Zoo' at Cameron Park

The call is out for artists to create a menagerie of animal sculptures along Cameron Park Drive.

Creative Waco this week published a request for proposals for the “Sculpture Zoo” on the road leading from downtown to Cameron Park Zoo, funded through a $150,000 pledge from an anonymous local donor. The deadline for proposals is Dec. 1, with winners to be confirmed in March.

Creative Waco executive director Fiona Bond said she hopes to get a mixture of applicants from the Waco area and nationwide.

“This is already helping put Waco on the map as a place that cares about great art,” Bond said.

The project seeks to create up to five sculptures that could be realistic or abstract but “recognizable” as animals, according to the document. The animals should be made of durable materials that can withstand climbing and touching.

Bond said the longhorn cattle drive created by the Suspension Bridge as part of the Branding the Brazos projects are a good example of how public art can engage both children and adults, even those who don’t usually get to experience art.

“Great public art turns ‘pass-through’ places into ‘go-to’ places,” she said. “It stops us in our tracks and invites us to be curious — to think, laugh, play, interact or explore.”

The donor made the same point in a statement Bond passed on: “The existing sculptures by the Brazos create a sense of personality, history and pride for our city. I hope these animal sculptures will be a great addition as people drive, bike or walk along the trails toward Cameron Park, prompting them to realize that a world-class zoo is right there.”

Jim Fleshman, director of the Cameron Park Zoo, said the animals could help draw more attention and visitors to the zoo, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.

He said the sculpture will spruce up the Pecan Bottoms area of Cameron Park.

“I think any time you add another dimension of art, it’s going to make our parks look a lot nicer and make them more inviting for guests,” Fleshman said.

The zoo itself has invested in animal sculptures of beavers, otters, cranes, an orangutan, a Komodo dragon and a giraffe, all of which have been popular with visitors, Fleshman said.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “It really immerses families in the experience. We always put them in the shade so kids can play on them. It really exposes children to a different kind of art.”

Submissions for the Sculpture Zoo will be assessed by panels consisting of experts in art, design and engineering. Creative Waco, which is the city’s designated arts funding organization, will participate in the selection alongside city and zoo officials. Finalists will be announced in January, and the winner will be submitted to the city parks board Feb. 20 and to the Waco City Council on March 1.

The sculptures are to be installed and dedicated next fall.

Bond said teams and individuals can apply for the competition, and student submissions are welcome.

“We don’t expect submissions to necessarily be from people who already have a long track record,” she said. “We want this to be an early career opportunity.”

Artists who aren’t chosen will get feedback that could help them with future submissions, Bond said.

Barndominium owner found guilty, plans to appeal

The owner of the Barndominium in Lacy Lakeview made famous on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” was found guilty Thursday of a misdemeanor charge for using the property as a rental.

The jury also handed down a fine: $1.

Lacy Lakeview City Attorney David Deaconson said the jury found Kristi Bass guilty of a Class C misdemeanor of an ordinance violation. The citation stemmed from a complaint filed by one of the neighbors of the property in November 2016. Deaconson dismissed a similar citation Thursday. The complainant — now-former Lacy Lakeview City Councilman Steven Moore — has moved out of the county and asked that the charged be dropped because he didn’t want to return for a trial due to health issues, Deaconson said.

Deaconson offered his take on the nominal fine.

“I think their logic was, ‘She’s violating the ordinance but it didn’t really cause harm to the neighborhood,’ ” Deaconson said.

Attorney Susan Kelly, who represents Bass, said the jury was “conflicted and very sympathetic” to her client.

“They said they felt like she was singled out and that this was not fair,” she said.

Kelly said she will appeal the decision and seek a new trial.

“We believe the facts and the law support that she had an absolute right to rent out her property and never needed a permit,” she said.

Meanwhile, a civil suit filed by the city against Bass remains in the discovery phase, Deaconson said. The city of Lacy Lakeview sued Bass after twice citing her for renting out the location without a permit, and twice rejecting her requests for a permit. In May, Deaconson asked Judge Jim Meyer in McLennan County’s 170th State District Court to issue a temporary injunction blocking Bass from advertising the property at 123 Spring Creek Drive and renting it to visitors. Meyer denied the request in July.

Bass has faced opposition from council members and neighbors since opening the 16-acre location more than a year ago and hoping to capitalize on “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines’ popularity. The couple transformed the 2,700-square-foot former horse barn for former owners Todd and Lexia Meek in season 3, episode 11.

The site is about 10 miles from the Gaineses’ Magnolia Market at the Silos and fans of the hit television show rented the location for $1,200 to $1,500 per night depending on the time of year and were required to book at least two nights.

The location went up on VRBO — Vacation Rentals by Owner — in August 2016 shortly after Bass purchased the property in the city of about 6,500 people. Bass was among a wave of property owners tapping into the fan base of the cable television series that draws thousands of people each week to downtown Waco. The Gaineses themselves got in on the action and renovated a McGregor house into a bed and breakfast and called it the Magnolia House.

The Waco celebrities later opened the Hillcrest Estate in North Waco as a vacation rental, charging guests $995 per night, and requiring a two-night minimum. The Gaineses’ recently announced season five — which starts Nov. 21 — will be the last that they will film with HGTV.

Bass has reiterated she’s been singled out for selective prosecution, saying others have run bed-and-breakfast operations in the city of Lacy Lakeview for years without permits. However, Lacy Lakeview city council members argued there is a difference between a bed and breakfast where the property owner is on site 24 hours a day, and a vacation rental.

Neighbors of the property also protested Bass’ plans at multiple city council meetings, arguing a business operation in the area zoned for residential use would affect property values, increase traffic and cause myriad other problems.

The first citation against Bass filed Sept. 7 was prompted by Moore, a then-neighbor of the Barndominium.

Bass, a real estate investor, decided to sell the property in April. Jennifer Roberts, a Sotheby’s International Realty agent, and Bass’ sister, listed the property for $1.2 million.

Firearms expert testifies in Carrizal Twin Peaks case

A federal firearms expert and an emergency room doctor testified Friday as the third week of Jacob Carrizal’s trial came to a close.

Carrizal, 35, is the first of 154 bikers indicted in the May 17, 2015, shootout at Twin Peaks between rival biker groups to stand trial.

Prosecutors have called 45 witnesses and introduced close to 1,000 pieces of evidence during the first 13 days of testimony. Carrizal, a Dallas-based railroad employee, is president of the Dallas Bandidos chapter and led a group of Bandidos into the Twin Peaks parking lot that Sunday afternoon moments before the group clashed with Cossacks, another biker group that had taken over the patio area at the restaurant.

John Jacobson, a firearms and tool mark examiner for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in California, testified about his examination of 154 firearms officers seized after the deadly shootout that left nine dead and more than 20 injured.

The firearms, plus 400 other weapons of all varieties, were found on the grounds of Twin Peaks and Don Carlos restaurants and in vehicles belonging to the hundreds of bikers.

Jacobson said he was able to match 12 of the firearms as positively firing a number of shell casings and projectiles found at the scene or that were retrieved from the bodies of the slain bikers during autopsies.

Jacobson said it was not his job nor could he determine if any of the projectiles he matched to weapons caused the deaths of anyone. Pathologists from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas will be testifying next week about wounds suffered by each man and the manner and means of their deaths.

Waco police did not send the three .223 rifles Waco officers used to kill bikers posing threats to them and others to the ATF lab in California. Those rifles were sent to the forensic lab in Dallas for analysis, and no testimony has been offered thus far about those findings.

Two officers, Heath Jackson and Michael Bucher, have testified about shooting bikers that day from the Don Carlos parking lot about 50 yards away, but it was not clear from their testimony how many bikers they killed. It was clear from Jacobson’s testimony, however, that some bikers were shot by police rifles and also by other bikers with handguns.

In other testimony, Dr. Richard Whitworth, an emergency room physician at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, testified he was one of three ER doctors on duty that Sunday afternoon when 20 bikers with gunshot wounds or other assaultive injuries came flooding in within a 20-minute time span.

Whitworth said hospital officials didn’t have time to get their names at first so they assigned state names to treatment rooms, like Alabama, Alaska and so on, as a way of identifying who was being treated.

Whitworth said he and the other two doctors stood in the ER doorway as the bikers arrived and assessed how badly each was hurt, treating the more seriously injured ones first and working their way down the line.

Judge Matt Johnson recessed the jury for the weekend after a series of objections from Carrizal’s attorney, Casie Gotro. Gotro objected that hospital records characterized why the bikers were there as “a mass shooting from a biker gang feud.”

The judge ordered that phrase redacted from the records and recessed proceedings while Gotro read the records for other potential objections.

Prosecution testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.

Carrizal is charged in Waco’s 54th State District Court with directing the operations of a criminal street gang, one count of engaging in organized criminal activity with the underlying offense of murder and a count of engaging in organized criminal activity with the underlying offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.