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Council passes more liberal rules for redeveloping existing projects
Amendment okays 100 percent redevelopment in Desired Development ZoneThe city's Smart Growth Initiative ought to be nearing the genius level now because the City Council has enacted seven major amendments to the City Code and one to the Land Development Code. Public hearings were held for all of them on April 6 but most drew few people to comment, coming as the hearings did toward the tail end of the council meeting that adjourned at the stroke of midnight. Five of the items were accepted with little discussion, taking a grand total of 20 minutes for the lot. The other three proposals chewed up close to two hours. Saving the most difficult for last, the council spent nearly an hour hashing over new rules for redeveloping existing sites before settling on a compromise that pleased everyone but Council Member Daryl Slusher, who cast the lone dissenting vote. All other votes were unanimous. As drafted, the ordinance amending Austin City Code Chapter 25-8 would have allowed redevelopment of up to 25 percent of impervious cover on existing sites throughout the city, including both the Desired Development Zone (DDZ) and the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ). To the extent of conflict, the ordinance would supersede Chapter 25-9, Article 12 ( Save Our Springs Initiative). "Hopefully this will stop new development by allowing existing projects to remain viable," said Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager for the Watershed Protection Department. "This should give better water quality for that impervious cover. We've looked at a lot of projects and they're not tearing out impervious cover." Attorney Brad Greenblum said, "I was the poster child for this by representing owners of Cannon West Center." He said he had tried for more than a year to obtain a variance. Murphy said the Planning Commission eventually approved redevelopment of 7,000 square feet of the center, which, as previously reported by In Fact Daily, had been vacated by an H.E.B. Greenblum said the staff was helpful but the existing code did not allow such redevelopment. The question is why limit redevelopment to 25 percent of the site, which must follow code and not increase impervious cover?" Greenblum said. "Why not allow 100 percent redevelopment of a parking lot?" He noted that such redevelopment still has to comply with other city ordinances, such as those governing traffic and parking. He said money spent now on engineering and time delays could be better spent on larger water quality ponds and landscaping. Mayor Kirk Watson asked staff why the proposal was limited to 25 percent redevelopment. Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell said staff had considered this a "tricky amendment." "We thought if we put forth 100 percent it would not pass," she said. In addition, most of the past redevelopment projects have involved less than 25 percent of the existing impervious cover, she said. "We thought this was our best shot at getting agreement." Murphy noted that last December he had presented a report on the Barton Springs Zone (BSZ) that projected buildout of the watershed would hit 15 percent. "Maybe it would be less if this (ordinance) were implemented," he said. Council Member Gus Garcia noted that the Hancock Shopping Center at I-35 and 41st Street had undergone substantial redevelopment, but Murphy said there is no impervious cover limits in urban watersheds and, in addition, the city cost-participates in 75 percent of water quality expense. "This (amendment) will not apply to urban watersheds," Murphy said. "Greenblum's project was in a suburban watershed." Council Member Willie Lewis said under current code, someone with an existing development couldn't redevelop but could buy a lot next door and develop it, which adds to the total impervious cover. "That makes little sense," he said. Tim Jones, a member of the Environmental Board, argued for exemption of the BSZ from the amendment on the rationale that redevelopment would increase traffic and the pollution that goes with it. Joyce Conner, also a member of the Environmental Board, said some neighborhoods were concerned that a traffic impact analysis (TIA) would not be triggered unless the project involves a certain square footage. She also argued that neighborhoods should be invited to consult with city staff on redevelopment projects, which otherwise would not involve citizen participation. Council Member Slusher asked both Conner and Jones if the Environmental Board could improve the ordinance with respect to the BSZ if it were sent back for their recommendations, and both said yes. Jones said it could be accomplished within two weeks, but the mayor objected, noting the Smart Growth ordinances had taken two years to get to this point. Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said, "Trying to maintain the viability of existing retail centers would have neighborhood support." He asked that neighborhood notification be added for redevelopment projects. Lewis moved to allow 100 percent of an existing project be redeveloped with the provision that a TIA be required regardless of the project's size. At Garcia's request, the motion was amended to allow 100 redevelopment in the DDZ but to limit redevelopment in the DWPZ to 25 percent. At the mayor's request, the requirement for a TIA was changed to a requirement to "meet current traffic code," meaning a TIA would be required only if the redevelopment increased traffic by 2,000 trips per day. A provision was also added to assess the cumulative impacts of all redevelopment of a site subsequent to the passage of the ordinance, so that a TIA would be required when the cumulative impact exceeds 2,000 trips per day. The redevelopment must comply with an adopted neighborhood plan if one exists. Developer reimbursements changed to boost projects in desired areas Central water and wastewater service policies radically altered Developers are getting some very strong financial carrots to build projects in the Desired Development Zone (DDZ) and some pretty big financial sticks if the insist on building in the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ). This is the result of an amendment to the Land Development Code Chapter 25-9 relating to water and wastewater systems, one of eight amendments enacted April 6 as part of the city's Smart Growth Initiative. In briefing the City Council, Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell said, "This is one of the most important Smart Growth ordinances. The biggest gaps in (utility) infrastructure are where we're asking development to relocate. This closes those gaps." Craig Bell, integrated water resources manager for the Water and Wastewater Department, said in August 1999 the council had amended the ordinance governing Capital Recovery Fees to vary charges from $3,000 per service unit in the DWPZ to $800 per unit in the DDZ. These amendments would change the city's procedures for handling Service Extension Requests (SERs) for water and wastewater service, as follows: • Short shelf life–SERs would expire in four months unless a development application is submitted, rather than in two years. Once a development application is submitted, the service approval would run with the project; if the project dies, so will the service approval. In response to a question from Council Member Daryl Slusher, Bell said that if a project changes significantly after an SER is approved, a new SER would be required. • No more transfers–Transfer of water and wastewater commitments will not be allowed. "There's been almost a black market on LUEs (living unit equivalents)," Futrell said. • More information required–The director of the Water and Wastewater Department may stipulate the information required when submitting an SER. Bell said things being considered as requirements for SERs include a notarized statement of ownership for the property for which service is requested; a subdivision or site development plan if one exists; and maps of existing land uses between the property to be served and the city infrastructure where connections would be made. In complicated cases, a preliminary engineering report may be required. In simple cases, such as hooking up utilities for a single lot, less information may be required, Bell said. • Reimbursement policy altered–The ordinance changes the amount of time the city will take in reimbursing developers for utilities. There will be no reimbursement–ever–for wastewater facilities in the DWPZ. Reimbursement for water improvements in the DWPZ will be spread over four years instead of three. In the DDZ, reimbursement for both water and wastewater improvements will be accomplished on March 1 of the second year after acceptance. Futrell said that no longer reimbursing developers for wastewater infrastructure improvements in the DWPZ "leads to a more open playing field to consider alternatives." The amendment was approved on a vote of 5-0 with Council Members Gus Garcia and Willie Lewis off the dais. Bell said the rules for on-site septic facilities (OSSF) are being addressed separately. A joint committee of the Planning Commission, Water and Wastewater Commission and Environmental Board recently finished work on proposed new rules and those will be going back to boards and commissions for review before coming to the City Council for adoption and forwarding to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. (See In Fact Daily March 31.) Also being addressed separately is an ordinance addressing requirements for small decentralized wastewater plants, Bell said. Council paves way for infill and redevelopment within neighborhoods Austin Neighborhoods Council willing to accept spot applications Neighborhoods with a plan approved by the City Council are going to be able to take advantage of a host of changes that will promote infill and redevelopment under the city's Smart Growth Initiative. These tools will be implemented under a zoning overlay applied throughout a neighborhood planning area. The zoning overlay will require separate approval by the City Council after adoption of a neighborhood plan. To date only three neighborhood plans have been adopted but many more are in the process of being prepared and the city has a goal of adopting 50 neighborhood plans over a five-year period that began in 1999. The City Council voted 7-0 on April 6 to amend the Austin City Code Chapter 25-2 for the Smart Growth Infill and Redevelopment Proposals to permit the following: • Small lot single-family development. • A reduction of the minimum lot area for existing, nonconforming, single-family lots. • Garage and single-story accessory apartments for single-family residences. • Projects that include a variety of residential uses, small-scale neighborhood commercial uses and open space. • Mixed-use buildings. • Small neighborhood corner stores. • Mixed-use, transit-supportive, neighborhood centers. George Adams of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, said, "Once infill proposals are included in a neighborhood plan, they will come to the council as a Neighborhood Plan Combining District." Developer Bill Howell said he would like to see the proposals tweaked. One change he wanted was to not make front porches mandatory, as they increase costs by about $20 a square foot and make affordable housing more difficult to produce. He also asked that a cottage special-use development not be limited to two acres in size. He said he had built a cottage development on 8.4 acres. Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said consensus had been worked out to accept these changes in neighborhood plans. "We have wide consensus to go forward," he said. "We could perhaps apply these on a spot basis. I hope the opportunity exists." At the same time, he said, care is needed because, "What would be helpful in one area…if applied citywide could be unworkable." Council Member Daryl Slusher said that 20,000 people have moved to the city every year for 10 years. "You would be willing to accept spot application of this?" he asked Bozeman. "We need to look for applications," Bozeman replied. "We all know the needs of the community but we also realize the challenges. Neighborhoods would like to be part of meeting the challenge." Smart Growth amendments ease number of development restrictions Impervious cover, cut-and-fill limits loosened up In addition to the far-reaching changes outlined above, the City Council on April 6 approved five other amendments to the City Code stemming from the Smart Growth Initiative, as follows: • Cut and fill doubled–An amendment to Section 25-8-42 allows city staff to approve cut-and-fill of up to eight feet in the Desired Development Zone. Current regulations limit cut and fill to a maximum of four feet except in urban watersheds. An administrative variance for cut and fill denied by staff may be requested as a variance considered by the Planning Commission. "We will scrutinize them," said Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager of the Watershed Protection Department. "These cannot create an adverse impact." He said variances in the past up to eight feet had been approved by the Environmental Board in almost all cases. The amendment was approved on a vote of 7-0. • Roadways not impervious–An amendment to Section 25-8-65 deletes the requirement that roadways be included in the watershed impervious cover calculations for certain small developments in the Desired Development Zone (DDZ). Developments that propose up to 5,000 square feet (SF) of impervious cover in the DDZ or up to 7,000 SF along Smart Growth Corridors and Nodes would be excluded from including roadway impervious cover in the watershed calculations. The amendment was approved on a vote of 7-0. • Urban watershed exemption–An amendment to Chapter 25-8 would replace an urban watershed exemption from construction on slope restrictions that was inadvertently deleted by a previous ordinance adopted in September 1997. This amendment will ensure that the urban watershed regulations for construction are consistent. Developments in urban watersheds are not currently subject to an impervious cover limit or a cut-and-fill restriction. Impervious cover is limited by zoning. The amendment was approved on a vote of 6-0 with Council Member Gus Garcia off the dais. • Impervious cover exemptions–Amendments to Sections 25-1-23, 25-8-63, and 25-8-64 provide for more consistent treatment of impervious cover for compliance with both zoning and watershed regulations. The changes exclude the surface area of swimming pools, ponds, fountains, gravel placed solely for pedestrian use, and one-half of the horizontal surface area of decks from both zoning and watershed impervious cover calculations. The changes also provide for updated single-family residential impervious cover assumptions for determining compliance with watershed restrictions. The latter assumptions have been in place since 1986, Murphy said, and are out of date. "Houses are being built bigger than they were in 1986," he said. In response to a question from Council Member Daryl Slusher, Murphy said that the surface of pools was not being counted because most have freeboard and new ones are required to tie into the city sewer system, and thus should not cause runoff. The amendment was approved on a vote of 6-0 with Garcia off the dais. • Urban farms permitted–An amendment to Chapter 25-2 would allow an urban farm that meets a number of conditions, including a minimum lot area of one acre and a maximum of five acres; a minimum 50-foot setback from all residential structures; all agriculture production areas being exclusive of utility easements; and situated in one of a number of permitted zoning districts. Greg Guernsey, a principal planner in the Development Review and Inspection Department, said this provision would apply citywide. It would allow sale of produce from where it's grown and allow up to five employees, depending on the size of the farm. No changes to the Health Code are involved, he said. The amendment was approved on a vote of 6-0 with Garcia off the dais. Not ready for prime time…While eight amendments were approved April 6 under the city's Smart Growth Initiative, two were yanked off the agenda and postponed indefinitely. These included an ordinance to amend the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan by incorporating Smart Growth Master Planning Guidelines as an element of the plan, and an amendment to Austin City Code Chapter 25-6 to provide consultation with neighborhood planning committees regarding traffic impact analyses and to permit city-initiated traffic analyses for Smart Growth Corridors and Nodes. Both were delayed due to postponements by the Planning Commission… Candidates on parade…The Tejano Democrats hold their endorsement meeting tonight at the AFL-CIO Building at 11th and Lavaca. It starts at 5 p.m. and will entertain candidates for Austin City Council, AISD Board of Trustees and Austin Community College. For more info call René Lara at 448-0130… Runoff elections tomorrow…On Tuesday, April 11, the Republican and Democratic Parties of Travis County hold runoff elections for races not decided in the March 14 primaries. In the GOP contest for District 48 State Representative, Jill Warren faces Scott Loras, who was endorsed by the four candidates who didn't make the runoff. The winner will face Democrat Ann Kitchen in November. Democrats Maria Canchola and Rocky Medrano face off for the Precinct 4 Constable's job, as no Republican filed for the position. Republican Party Chair Becky Motal faces Alan Sager in the runoff to see if Motal gets a second term… Council forum…The Capitol Area Democratic Women will host a City Council Candidates Forum Friday, April 14, 5:30-9 p.m. at Gardner-Betts Juvenile Court, 2515 S. Congress Ave. This one's sponsored by five different Democratic Party clubs. For more info, call Cecilia Crossley at 444-0956 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
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