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City, county racing down to wire on joint rules

Monday, December 8, 2003 by

Council has one final meeting to approve development regulations

The Austin City Council this week will take up new rules concerning the development in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction as required by House Bill 1445. Members of the city’s legal and watershed protection staff have been working for months with various stakeholders and representatives of the surrounding four counties in order to get the new rules in place by the end of this year. The Legislature set a deadline of January 1, 2004 for Austin and the surrounding counties to reconcile their development regulations for the city’s ETJ or face binding arbitration on the issue.

Austin has worked out the bulk of the agreements with Williamson, Bastrop and Hays Counties, according to Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon. In each of those cases, the agreement calls for the city’s rules to prevail in the areas covered by the ETJ, with some exceptions. While the Hays County agreement has not yet been approved by Commissioners there, Gordon told the Council she was optimistic a deal could be reached. “So, three of our four agreements essentially have the city’s regulations applying in the ETJ with some concessions to the counties to come up with an agreement,” she said.

A different procedure is being used in the deal between Austin and Travis County. The two governments have decided to pursue the option of creating a single office to handle development in the ETJ in which both the city’s and county’s rules apply. “As a result of that, we are at the point where we have to adopt a single code,” said Gordon. “We are in the process of doing that.”

There are still a few issues that need to be resolved as the deadline approaches. Those include some suggestions raised by members of the development and real estate communities who will be affected by the new rules. “The stakeholders got together and prepared a draft document that took the initial work prepared by the city and made some suggestions,” Harry Savio of the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin told In Fact Daily. “We suggested that it be clear where the city would have primary responsibility and those areas of decision where the county would.” That proposal involved giving the city jurisdiction over variances on environmental and water quality rules, while giving the county authority over matters related to roads and drainage as long as the land in question was not due to be annexed into the city limits in the near future.

However, Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon told the Council that such an arrangement would not be feasible under the options proscribed by HB 1445. “That is a fundamental change from what we have recommended,” she said, “but we are considering the issues that they have raised.” Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd and Environmental Officer Pat Murphy and Gordon have been meeting with stakeholders and Travis County officials. The Council had been scheduled for a vote on the matter last week, but postponed it to give staff additional time to work out the final details.

“I do applaud the staff’s long-term involvement and effort to try to get this to come to fruition,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “It’s a challenge for us with our policies and approach to land use to try to balance with both legislative intent and the fact that we have so many other jurisdictions that we and our common taxpayers and landowners have to deal with. It’s a complicated set of issues.”

Assisting neighborhoods in Design Commission's future?

Panel tentatively agrees to concept

The Design Commission has taken a tentative step toward assisting in neighborhood planning by allowing members to work in an advisory capacity, although they cannot do it for hire.

Most members of the Design Commission are urban planning professionals. That put the commission in a unique position when the city downsized its neighborhood planning teams. Given a chance to reshape the ordinance for the Design Commission—courtesy of the Task Force on Boards and Commissions and the death of Smart Growth—members of the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department pitched the idea of adding neighborhood planning as another purpose of the Design Commission.

The road to that role is a tricky one. Planner Pollyanne Melton, the staff liaison assigned to the Design Commission, is one of the planners cut from the upcoming round of neighborhood plans. That means urban design projects within neighborhood plans will now have to be handled by the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department.

Most neighborhood plans are interlocking land use, transportation and urban design plans for a particular area, Melton said. Neighborhoods along potential rail corridors were in the last round of planning, and Capital Metro hired staff and created station plans. With city budget cuts and no rail corridor, the upcoming plans will utilize few transportation and urban design professionals, putting the bulk of the work in the hands of neighborhood planners.

City staff proposed specific projects to the Design Commission; the first two were urban design projects on Riverside Drive.

One of the projects would be to look at Riverside Drive east of I-35 out to Montopolis, Melton said. The corridor is not fully developed, with both residential and commercial property, and could benefit from a vision for long-term development, including urban design guidelines, she said.

The second project is Riverside west of I-35 through Travis Heights, Melton said. The area has tremendous potential for a historic district, as well as pressure for redevelopment along the Riverside portion of the neighborhood. Urban design guidelines would provide some consistency and goals for the roadway.

Neighborhoods on both sides of I-35 at Riverside will kick off plans in January. That put pressure on the Design Commission to make some choices, both short term and in the long-term planning of the commission.

Commissioners struggled with the concept of involvement. While all were in favor of participation—Chair John Patterson said the planning function was in line with the Design Commission’s mission—the level of participation needed clearer definition. As Commissioner Girard Kinney noted from personal experience, neighborhood plans are time-intensive negotiations between city and stakeholders that can often last up to a year.

Commissioner Eleanor McKinney said she wanted to make sure the Design Commission was a sounding board for policy, rather than a cog in the wheel of the planning team. While the editing of design guidelines and rewriting the commission’s ordinance were continuing, McKinney said, it would be difficult to give up members to serve as de facto planning team staff.

A variety of options were raised and discussed:

• The Design Commission could develop a template for urban design options.

• Members could make presentations to neighborhood groups to explain options.

• Commissioners could be appointed as liaisons, with back-up help from University of Texas architecture students.

• The Design Commission could choose to edit proposals, rather than producing product.

Melton pointed out that the commission would have access to a substantial number of finished plans. Commissioner Joan Hyde said she saw the Design Commission providing a toolbox of options for guidelines and policies, rather than work product. The goal should be to review plans rather than do plans, Hyde said. Commissioners could recommend density, but telling them what the footprint of a site should be would be crossing the line, she said.

When it came time for a vote, commissioners were comfortable enough to say they were willing to offer guidance for neighborhood plans. They did not offer specifics, and intend to discuss logistics on Jan. 5. The vote was 5-1-1, with Hyde voting against the motion because she wanted it to be completed in tandem with a new ordinance. McKinney abstained.

Commissioner Richard Weiss made a second motion to ask Melton to bring a rough outline of the time commitment for participation in the plan for Riverside east of I- 35. Weiss pointed out that Travis Heights could easily afford to hire its own urban design experts for guidelines; but East Austin could not.

Jan. 23 has been set as the date for a retreat to flesh out a new proposed ordinance for the commission..

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Archer Nathan Group wins big in Houston . . . Businessman Bill White, a former chair of the Texas Democratic Party, claimed the Houston mayor’s office in Saturday’s runoff election, garnering 63 percent of the vote in a decisive victory over Republican candidate Orlando Sanchez, who was making his second bid for the office. Christian Archer and Mark Nathan, the team that helped put Austin Mayor Will Wynn in office, planned and managed White’s massive field program, with Archer doing double-duty as White’s Deputy Campaign Manager. The Archer Nathan team also played a consulting role on the Houston City Council campaign of attorney Ronald Green, who bumped off Republican incumbent Council Member Bert Keller, winning 53 percent of the vote in the run-off race for At-Large Position Four. Both White and Green will take office in January . . . PID approved . . . The City Council approved the operating budget and assessment for the Downtown Austin Public Improvement District last week. No one showed up for the public hearing and no Council member commented. The assessment for downtown property is 10 cents per $100 valuation . . . Packing heat for a ride on the bus . . . Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a handgun advocate who oversaw the passage of the law that allows Texas citizens to obtain licenses to carry concealed handguns, has filed suit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro). Last week, Metro filed its response “denying allegations that its policy of banning concealed handgun licensees from area buses violates the Texas Constitution and state statutes,” according to a press release from the Civil Liberties Defense Foundation (not to be confused with the ACLU). Patterson carried the licensure legislation in 1995 when he was a state senator. This year, the Legislature approved and Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation intended to prevent local governments from keeping concealed handguns out of government buildings . . . Sign Review/BOA meets tonight . . . The Board of Adjustment has quite a lengthy agenda tonight, including reconsideration of three requests the board previously denied. The board will meet at 5:30pm in Room 324 of One Texas Center . . . CAMPO officials to talk about Aulick . . . The Transportation Policy Board is scheduled to convene at 5:45pm and go into executive session to discuss the performance of CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick, as they do annually. The board is also expected to make decisions about what projects to bless with STP Metropolitan Mobility funds and amend the FY 2004—FY 2008 Transportation Improvement Program. They conducted a public hearing on the matter last month . . . County Clerk’s Offices move . . . The courthouse at 11th and Guadalupe and adjacent buildings have become too cramped, and the parking has proved inadequate for the many people who need to visit the offices of Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. So some of the services, including issuance of marriage licenses, recording of property deeds and new business name filings (DBAs) will now be done at 5501 Airport Boulevard in the old Builders Square building. In addition to ample free parking, the new location features a roomy public research area with direct access off the main entrance. DeBeauvoir’s employees will join those of the Travis County Tax-Assessor at the new location, which is near Highland Mall. The clerk’s office also plans to announce election night returns from the new facility, which includes a large storage area for the County’s 2,000 pieces of electronic voting equipment and a training area where more than 1,500 election judges and support workers will be trained for the 2004 elections. However, DeBeauvoir and some divisions of the County Clerk’s office, including Civil, Probate, Misdemeanor and County Commissioners’ Court records will remain at the courthouse.

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