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Wentworth offers slightly

Friday, April 18, 2003 by

Sweeter subdivision rules

New law would replace HB 1445

Senate Bill 544, earmarked to replace House Bill 1445—which requires large cities and counties to consolidate subdivision regulations and permitting—did not produce the fireworks some had anticipated at yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Intergovernmental Committee.

House Bill 1445, passed last session, was intended to address conflicting subdivision regulations in counties’ extra-territorial jurisdictions. Supported by homebuilders across the state, the bill asked cities and counties to reconcile land use regulations through one of four options: turn all authority over to the city; turn it over to the county; determine areas over which each would have authority; or sign an interlocal agreement.

The bill gives the city and county a single office for development review and a single response to development issues. The deadline for compliance was April 1, 2002. One year later, Travis County and the City of Austin have created a development review office, but the two entities have yet to adopt a single set of development regulations.

This stalemate has frustrated developers and homebuilders, who were on hand to testify in favor of Senate Bill 544. Developer Thurman Blackburn, who repeated his testimony before the House, said after 18 months of failure it was time for the state to “set up and take care of the folks who can no longer be entrusted to take care of themselves.”

Hank Smith, who represented the Homebuilders of Greater Austin, said that the interlocal agreement between Travis County and the City of Austin still does not go far enough. Even though the two governments may come up with one set of regulations, any subdivision plat will have to go through the Planning Commission on one side and the County Commissioners on the other.

The lack of controversy might have been due to the substitute bill Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) introduced yesterday. The original bill left subdivision regulation in the hands of the county if the city and county failed to reach an agreement.

That proviso essentially erases any incentive that the county would have to negotiate an agreement, Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon said. The proposed bill has left some uncomfortable tension between city and county leaders, who are still trying to reach a single set of subdivision guidelines.

Binding arbitration provision added to bill

Under Wentworth’s substitute, that controversial stipulation was struck. Instead, if a county and city fail to reach an agreement, the parties would be sent to binding arbitration. The substitute also exempts the Houston area and the border counties.

Susan Horton of the Texas Municipal League opposed Senate Bill 544, although she said TML supported the concept of one-stop shopping and orderly development.

Horton doubted that arbitration is good public policy. Arbitration is not intended for two sides that are trying to reconcile contradictory land use regulations, she said. Horton also questioned whether the county should be given the subdivision authority, especially when cities have stricter guidelines. If the authority is going to default to one side, maybe it ought to be the municipal authority since the more stringent regulations would apply, she noted.

Donald Lee of the Conference of Urban Counties also opposed the Wentworth bill. Lee raised three issues about the substitute: costly arbitration, “which should only be used as a hammer” and as a last resort; the sunsetting of arbitration, if agreements lapse; and missing language that would designate which areas of the state that would follow the regulations.

Supporters of the bill included KB Homes, the Real Estate Council of Austin, the Texas Apartment Association and the County Judges and Commissioners Association.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who served on the committee to reconcile city and county regulations, supported Senate Bill 544. Daugherty said two sets of regulations apply in the ETJ, and that it’s time to add “certainty and predictability” to the development process.

Senate Bill 544 was left pending in committee. House Bill 1204, the companion committee substitute authored by Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin), was voted out of the House committee on April 9.

Growing Green makes

Sense in many ways

'Dillo Dirt superior to commercial fertilizer, study shows

Kathy Shay of the Watershed Protection & Development Review Department (WPDR) told the Environmental Board Wednesday that a new educational effort coupled with groundbreaking research is making great strides at getting residents to stop over-fertilizing their yards, which leads to water pollution from runoff during rainstorms.

Shay said the city’s Grow Green program offers specific recommendations for the type and amount of fertilizer needed to keep your yard green and growing without adding unneeded chemicals and pollutants. The program includes fliers and signage at nurseries throughout the city, along with educational efforts targeted at neighborhoods where pollution of waterways is a particular problem.

City officials have always known that fertilizer ingredients—particularly nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium—were problematic, but the research to find the least damaging and most effective fertilizer produced surprising results. Officials at Texas A&M University conducted a study on four types of fertilizer—organic materials, synthetic fertilizers, time-release products and ‘Dillo Dirt, the city’s compost. They had expected synthetics to be the best overall, but it turned out organics came out ahead by a wide margin, Shay said. “Not only is it better for the environment, but it gives you a more attractive lawn,” she said.

Following the research, city officials developed the exact guidelines and recommendations for the Grow Green program. The city also encourages area retailers to push organic products and keep them in stock to accompany the educational efforts.

For a complete list of recommendations on how to keep a proper balance of fertilizers on your yard and garden, see the Grow Green Web site at

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

Wynn begins TV commercials . . . Leading the pack in contributions among mayoral candidates, Will Wynn has put some of that money to work in a commercial that began airing yesterday. The spot, which runs frequently on News 8, features some of the multitude of endorsements Wynn has received. The ad specifically mentions endorsements from firefighters, police officers, the Austin American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle. Peck Young, a consultant to the Marc Katz campaign, told In Fact Daily he was uncertain about when—or if—his client would be running political commercials. He said TV ads were in the “preproduction” phase. Brad Meltzer is also continuing his TV campaign with scattered spots on KTBC . . . Katz postpones press conference . . . Mayoral candidate Marc Katz, who was set to hold a press conference at 10am yesterday, postponed the event to next Tuesday . . . Voting has begun . . although many people may be unaware of the upcoming election, 3,277 of Austin’s registered voters had already registered their choices by the end of the day yesterday. Early Voting will continue through April 29 . . . Reorganization possible . . . Travis County is contemplating reorganization of the road and bridge division, an important part of Transportation and Natural Resources (TNR). Executive Director Joe Gieselman told commissioners at a work session yesterday that precinct redistricting has resulted in an east-west alignment, making it natural to consider consolidation of the four road maintenance satellite offices into one Westside and one Eastside Service Center. He said the western office has already been created at 8405 FM 620, the site of the original Pct. 2 office. He proposed the sale of Pct. 1 and Pct. 4 offices and acquisition of the Blue Bluff tract, which was purchased with park bonds. The county would have to repay the bonds, but could realize a profit from the sale of the other two properties. In addition to the physical consolidation, Gieselman said a consolidation of staff would result in a salary savings of $50,000. It was unclear whether this would improve customer service delivery, said Jack Kirfman of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), who attended the work session. Commissioners asked for additional data on the cost savings . . . Celebrating with Bubba . . . The South Austin Culture Club will hold its annual luncheon next Tuesday at Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress, Building C. The club promises each mayoral candidate in attendance 3 minutes (where did that come from?) to explain how he will insure that South Austin remains “Too Cool to Bulldoze,” the theme of this year’s event. For more information, visit . . More for mayoral candidates to do . . . Scenic Austin and the Austin Parks Foundation are hosting an evening at the Zilker Club House billed as Views and Brews next Wednesday, beginning at 6pm. The forum, moderated by Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly, will focus on balancing growth and Austin’s high quality of life.

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

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