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City has missed deadline to reach agreement with surrounding counties

Wednesday, February 26, 2003 by

Despite work that Travis County and the City of Austin have done to consolidate the approval process for subdivision platting in the city’s Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) they have obviously failed to meet the requirements of HB 1445. That bill, approved last session, set an April 1, 2002 deadline for agreement on all its requirements. The city has reached basic agreement with Bastrop and Williamson Counties, but has no agreement with Hays County.

As a result, Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), who authored the 2001 legislation, has filed a bill that would either significantly reduce the city’s power to regulate in the ETJ or cost city taxpayers considerably more money. SB544 would give counties the authority to regulate plats, drainage, road plans and flood control in metropolitan areas of more than 700,000 people. The new law would apply to Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and surrounding counties. It would also impact suburbs such as Round Rock and San Marcos.

Under the proposal, county regulations would apply to subdivisions in the ETJ unless the county gives up its authority to regulate. In return for relinquishing that power, the county would gain a financial benefit because the city would have to start paying for maintenance of roads, drainage and flood control structures in the area. That would be a particularly tough pill for Austin leaders to swallow since its taxpayers already pay for county roads and other amenities.

At this point, city and county offices for subdivision platting have been consolidated. Reconciling dissimilar subdivision regulations, platting deadlines and roadway plans is taking longer. The City Council and Commissioners Court will make the final decisions. The Council is scheduled to take up the matter next week.

Travis County’s Joe Gieselman said the city and county have agreed to eliminate differences between the two entity’s transportation plans—but exactly how that will be done is unknown. Travis County has adopted the CAMPO road plan, but the city has rejected that plan in favor of the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan. The AMATP has five fewer roads than the CAMPO plan and the city has downgraded the capacity of five other roads.

Gieselman, the county’s executive director of Transportation and Natural Resources, said preliminary plat plan expiration is one area of potentially easy agreement. City subdivision plats expire after three years in the Drinking Water Protection Zone and five years in the Desired Development Zone. County regulations give two years. County staff has recommended 5-year plats in the Drinking Water Protection Zone and 12 years in the Desired Development Zone if part of the plan is final platted within two years of preliminary approval.

Variances and waivers are also a concern. County staff has proposed the city handle all waivers in areas that would be annexed within three years. In the remainder of the ETJ, each jurisdiction would handle waivers most relevant to its own services: the city would decide on variances for utility, water quality and environmental standards, and the county would decide on variances for transportation and storm water conveyance standards.

The two jurisdictions must agree on sidewalks, too. County staff has recommended the city amend its code to include variance criteria. Counties are required to meet the standards of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city and county must agree to how sidewalks must meet standards for the disabled community.

The county has deferred to the city on gated communities and private streets. The city has granted few, if any, variances for gated communities. County staff has recommended that each jurisdiction set a waiver process for them. The variance would no longer be an administrative variance but be granted by the Commissioners Court.

Maintenance of drainage infrastructure in the ETJ has been split between the county and the landowner. A drainage fee will be considered to handle off-road storm water structures to the county’s maintenance programs. The county’s participation in the regional storm water management program will also be increased.

Although staffs of both the city and county are working toward an agreement, the passage of SB544—as proposed—would void any agreement under the prior legislation. The city and county would perhaps have a starting point for further negotiation, but it would certainly prolong the process for anyone seeking subdivision approval in the meantime.

Bring your gun to a hearing? . . . If a bill authored by Rep. Suzanna Hupp (R-Lampasas) becomes law, citizens would regain the right to carry a concealed weapon on governmental property. Currently, most cities forbid weapons on public property. But HB 878, which was approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee yesterday, would create an exception to the law which allows landowners to prohibit weapons on their land. That exception would apply to licensed handgun owners wishing to carry their weapons into buildings or other property owned or leased by a governmental entity. The bill now moves to the House Calendars Committee. Legislators met on other matters, also, in spite of the weather. However, public testimony on 32 bills pending before the House Insurance Committee was lighter than expected, probably because of icy roadways . . . City closed down . . . Some city employees went to work in spite of yesterday’s ice and some worked via computer from home, but city buildings were not available for the usual board and commission meetings. So, we have no report from the Zoning and Platting Commission, which will probably have a heavier than normal agenda next week as a result . . . Work session today . . . The City Council will be holding its 10am work session today, according to a spokesperson in the Office of Emergency Management. The Council will hear a briefing from the Planning Commission on the status of neighborhood planning and other planning efforts. The City Clerk’s Office will report on the new agenda management system, which now includes electronic backup . . . Travis County Commissioners, who met briefly and approved payment of claims yesterday, will continue their meeting at 10am today also . . . Environmental report coming out today . . . State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Mary Kelly of Environmental Defense, representing the Alliance for a Clean Texas, will release a critical report of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality at a press conference today. The event is planned for 2pm in the Speaker’s Committee Room, Second Floor, Room 2W.6.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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