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Commission looks at simplified development rules

Thursday, September 4, 2003 by

Parking requirements wouldbe reduced for many businesses

City Code amendments intended to help smaller businesses—including a reduction in the number of parking categories—are headed to a hearing at the Planning Commission next Wednesday night.

The proposed code amendments are an outgrowth of the Mayor's Task Force on the Economy. The City Council gave its blessing to the proposed code amendments, in concept, in early June. In the intervening months, the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR) has been analyzing and modifying those amendments.

Parking requirements will likely draw the most interest. In a presentation to the Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee of the Planning Commission on Wednesday, Planner Carl McClendon told members that the parking categories would be streamlined from the 55 existing categories down to 30.

For many commercial uses, the parking requirement would be one parking space for every 275 square feet of space. That means that individual uses that were once separate categories will now share similar parking requirements. The use could be a daycare center or religious assembly, pet services or research testing, software development or medical offices: the requirement for parking will be the same.

That won’t be a big change for most uses, McClendon said. Most commercial space is required to have either one space per 200 square feet or one space per 300 square feet. And while the 1:275 ratio looks like it’s a bigger burden on office space—the current requirement is 1:300—most new office buildings are putting down parking spaces at a rate of one space per 240 or 250 square feet.

WPDR has simplified the zoning categories with exceptions to the parking requirements— CBD/DMU, Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND), Central Urban Redevelopment (CURE) and Urban Infill. Now the city will be divided into a simple “urban core” and “suburban.” The CBD/DMU zoning would still have parking requirements in the range of 20 to 60 percent of the city’s full requirements. Those areas outside the CBD/DMU zoning but inside the urban core would be able to eliminate 20 percent of the parking requirement, a nod to the increased cost of land borne by the inner-city developer. Suburban development would have to meet 100 percent of parking requirements.

The urban core would be defined roughly as those areas lying inside US 183 on the north and the east, Ben White Boulevard on the south and MoPac and Mesa Boulevard on the west. The parking requirements also would include increased requirements for bicycle parking.

McClendon said the parking changes would simplify work for department staff, which is facing reductions. It also simplifies requirements for property owners, who were often forced to re-stripe parking lots and reapply for variances when the use of a building changed from one commercial purpose to another.

Other code amendments on the table include:

• Increasing the limits of an area of construction (but not impervious cover) from 1000 square feet to 3000 square feet without a permit. The intention is to simplify additions to small businesses. All variances and zoning requirements would remain in place.

• Dividing the definitions of limited restaurant into “walk up” restaurant and “drive-thru” restaurant. The drive-thru restaurant is considered “more of an issue,” Planner Susan Scallon told the subcommittee. The walk-up restaurant would continue to have limits on outdoor seating.

• Extending platting exemptions to those pieces of property that had utilities before 1995. The current exception is for properties having utilities before 1987. To qualify as a legal lot, the property must be smaller than five acres, have utilities and access to a thoroughfare. Building codes and zoning regulations would still apply; only the requirement to subdivide would be lifted.

• Providing the director of WPDR with more latitude to grant variances within both the 25-year and 100-year flood plains. Most requests for such waivers must be approved by the City Council.

The Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee will meet with staff prior to the Planning Commission meeting next week to make its own list of recommendations to streamline the development review process. The subcommittee, chaired by Commissioner Maggie Armstrong, is likely to ask the full Planning Commission to keep the public hearing open and hold off on a recommendation until the subcommittee completes its own evaluation.

Minority business panel expresses concern

Fewer dollars going to Hispanic contractors

Members of the city’s minority business advisory board have some concerns about a $20 million gap between money earned thus far this year as compared to last year by Hispanic contractors working on city construction projects.

According to the figures presented to the Minority Business Enterprise/Women Business Enterprise Advisory Committee (MBE/WBE), the city has awarded $17.6 million thus far this year to Hispanic businesses, compared to $37.1 million for all of last year.

To be fair, only six months were considered in comparing the totals. And the city is awarding significantly fewer construction contracts this year than last year—$134.5 million this year to $256 million for all of last year. But that $20 million difference raised some red flags with MBE/WBE advisory board members.

While the difference in percentage from year to year is not huge, Michael Cardelas of the Hispanic Contractors Association expressed concern that the numbers are not higher for awarding construction contracts to Hispanic-owned businesses.

“The difference, in real dollar terms, is $20 million,” Cardelas said. “I understand that the total dollars are less than (in) ’02, but it’s important for us to keep the percentages up for construction trades, even if there is a drop.”

Those numbers will change. As Cardelas pointed out, only two of the three phases on City Hall have been let. The third bid package on the $48 million project will be the largest.

Sam Kumar of the Asian Trade Council said it was hard to believe numbers weren’t higher, given the number of Hispanic contractors in the city.

Because of the gap between last year’s expenditures and year-to-date expenditures, the differences in percentages are not glaring. Last year, the city had a goal of 20.4 percent participation by Hispanic businesses, and a realization of 14.5 percent. This year, the city’s percentages lag only slightly, at 13.1 percent.

Overall, for construction contracts, the city’s goal is 23.8 percent minority participation. The actual percentage last year was 19 percent. This year it has nudged up to 20 percent, while African-American participation in construction contracts has jumped from 2.8 percent to 4.1 percent.

In total, the city awarded $484.6 million for various contracts last year. The figure includes construction, commodity, non-professional and professional contracts. A total of 14.2 percent, or $68.9 million, went to minority contractors. This year, the city has awarded $343.1 million in overall contracts, and a total of $48.4 million, or 14.1 percent, has gone to minority contractors.

Adrian Neely of the Black Contractors Association pointed to concerns over the percentage of professional contracts awarded to African-American businesses. The city’s 1.1 percent goal in that category is rather low. Neely said it might be time to set up a forum with African-American contractors who provide professional services, the same way the city set up a forum with African-American trade contractors.

The city should have more registered African-American professional contractors than the numbers reflect, Neely said. He said it’s just a matter of the contractors understanding how the city works and developing the right vendor-city relationship. Neely urged city staff to set up meetings with contractors to discuss barriers to participation.

“There are a lot of black trades out there available to us with these services . . . if they know how these services would work with the city,” Neely said.

Cheryl Phillips of the African-American Chamber of Commerce wanted to talk to staff about how smaller businesses can break into the “under $5,000” contract market. Many of these purchases are left at the discretion of the various departments. Phillips said many of her members would like to be bidding on such contracts.

Of the $2.6 million in purchase orders under $5,000 this year, which includes construction, commodity, non-professional and professional contracts 09, 12.3 percent have gone to minority vendors. That average is quite similar to last year’s numbers.

Neely said it was not only important to note where minority businesses missed opportunities, but also to pinpoint why minority businesses missed those opportunities. Only then will the problems be addressed, he told commission.

For news from last week:

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

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