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Council may loosen ‘McMansion’ moratorium

Tuesday, February 7, 2006 by

Dunkerley-backed plan would ease some restrictions in original proposal

In response to complaints from homeowners, Council Member Betty Dunkerley is proposing changes to a temporary moratorium on “McMansions”—oversized structures, sometimes functioning like dormitories—in Central Austin neighborhoods. The moratorium is set for action on this week's Council agenda.

Dunkerley said yesterday that the moratorium she has in mind is not intended “to stop building and remodeling in Austin. What we are trying to deal with, "she said, "are very large houses on single-family lots that tower over the neighborhood." This has caused particular angst in historic neighborhoods such as Pemberton Heights and Old West Austin as well as Hyde Park. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 2, 2006 ; Aug. 8, 2005; June 1, 2005.)

Last week, the Council was considering interim regulations that would prevent property owners in certain neighborhoods with small, older homes from tearing down the current structures and replacing those houses with houses more than 10 percent larger. Those doing remodeling would not have been allowed to enlarge their houses by more than 10 percent either.

But Council offices received a large quantity of complaints via email and phone about the proposal and Dunkerley has now proposed more relaxed rules. Homeowners in areas governed by the moratorium would be able to build a new structure of:

• Up to 2500 square feet; or

• Up to 20 percent bigger than the current structure or the structure that was previously on a lot; or

• the average square footage of the houses on the block; or

• A 4:1 floor-to-area ratio (FAR).

So for example, if a person had a 1,200-square foot house and wanted to add on, the new structure could be 2,500-square feet. Dunkerley said it the lot were big enough, the owner could build up to 4:1 FAR. However, other development rules would continue to apply.

Only areas of town with drainage problems would be affected. The interim regulations would not apply in subdivisions such as Rob Roy and Circle C, she said. She said several other Council members had expressed support for the changes she is proposing.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the matter at 6pm Thursday. Once the Council has approved an interim moratorium, the city will begin a process that includes a public hearing at the Planning Commission and consultation with various stakeholders. Dunkerley noted that the interim ordinance would only be in place for 60 days, during which time the Council will be studying a permanent ordinance.

Biscoe plans conditions for Sweetwater

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe will recommend a number of conditions on the Sweetwater subdivision before the county approves a heavily opposed phasing agreement for the 1,900-home development on SH 71 today. Opponent Christy Muse sent out an email yesterday outlining the Judge’s recommendations.

Sweetwater has been the source of much scrutiny by the county over the last month, consuming much of last week’s Commissioners Court meeting. The development is divided into two phases: a first phase of 561 lots on 311 acres and a second phase of 1,296 lots on 735 acres. The recently created Lazy Nine municipal utility district would serve the majority of the lots in those subdivisions.

According to a memo, Biscoe will recommend: requiring the issuance of a Lower Colorado River Authority non-point source pollution permit before subdivision construction plans are approved; giving the county the ability to cease construction and remedy any “Lick Creek-like” construction pollution problems; forcing the developer to meet the county’s interim water quality control rules when it comes to the construction-phase pollution controls on-site; and adding a restrictive covenant prohibiting development of the additional 40 acres added to the revised first section of the phasing agreement. Biscoe also would like to take up the developer’s offer to reduce the density of the second phase of the development by another 100 lots, according to the memo.

Biscoe would be willing to agree to “pump and haul” wastewater utilities for the development’s model homes – such a practice is common for most homes in Western Travis County – but he would prohibit occupancy of homes until a more permanent means of disposal is in place for the homes in the subdivision, the memo says.

The widening of SH 71 also was a major point for opponents of the subdivision, who said the highway is too narrow for heavy use, even by construction vehicles. Biscoe apparently plans to propose allowing the construction of internal streets and model homes within the first phase of the community, but he is opposed to construction of homes for occupancy until permanent highway widening is complete.

In the memo, Biscoe also supports the temporary re-striping of the highway for a left-hand turn lane into the subdivision before final plat or construction plans are completed, a plan that was on the books for this fall.

Biscoe also wants to add the condition that the commercial tract in Sweetwater not be a filing station or car wash. The developer readily agreed to such a condition during last week’s discussion.

Opponents still are likely to oppose the development on a number of grounds that were raised during last week’s meeting, including the safety issues along SH 71, the new proposal for the commercial project in the subdivision and the use of pump and haul for wastewater utilities on the site.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Charter amendment proposed . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken says he expects the Council to approve at least two Charter amendment proposals for the May 13 ballot. One proposal would allow city employees to place a family member or domestic partner on their health insurance. The second, McCracken said, would change the term of Municipal Court judges from two years to four. McCracken, an attorney, said, " In talking with the Municipal Court judges during this last reappointment process, we learned that basically it's a constant cycle of reappointments. The cycle almost begins within a few months of the appointments being made.” State law says that municipal judges can either have a two-year or four-year terms, but a charter change is needed. McCracken said he believes that such a change would help the judges to do their jobs free of the pressure that a two-year appointment brings with it . . . Candidate forum today . . . City Council candidate forum for Place 2 and Place 6 begins at 11:30am today. Several business-oriented groups are hosting the forum, which will be at 219 West . . . Candidates engage consultant . . . Political consultant Peck Young has signed on to work for the Darrell Pierce campaign for Place 6 and Eliza May for Place 2. May is planning her official kickoff event on February 16 and Pierce intends to have a similar event on February 20 . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . .The Travis County Commissioners meet at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the Pct. 3 JP Courtroom on Inner Loop Dr. in Georgetown. . . . AISD land plan . . . Members of the Save Barton Creek Association got a briefing last night from city and AISD staff members on the proposed amendment to the Land Development Standards Agreement approved last week by the Environmental Board. City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy and AISD’s Dan Robertson spoke to the group, outlining the history of the agreement and events that led up the current plan to amend the complex agreement involving schools and planned school sites on or near the aquifer. Several SBCA members expressed concerns that AISD wanted to leave two schools on an “exception list” that would allow up to 50 percent impervious cover if they are built or expanded. Robertson pointed out that AISD has traditionally built its schools at or under 25 percent impervious cover, but members were concerned about leaving the option in the agreement, not knowing what others might do in the future. The amendment will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on February 14, and is scheduled to go before the City Council on February 16. However, Murphy said that was likely to be postponed by at least a week . . . Endorsement meeting . . . The South Austin Democrats, Texas Environmental Democrats and Capital Area Progressive Democrats will hold a joint endorsement meeting for contested races in the upcoming primary tonight. The meeting is set for 6pm at Little Mexico, 2304 South First St. . . . Early voting in District 48 . . . Monday was the first day of early voting in the runoff election for the District 48 seat in the Texas House. Democrat Donna Howard and Republican Ben Bentzin are on the ballot. Just about one-quarter of one percent of the registered voters, 1,427 in all, cast ballots on the first day. Early voting will run through Friday, with Election Day February 14. . . . Primary registration . . . Today is also the final day to register for the March 7 primary elections. Voter registration forms must be turned in to the county clerk’s office or postmarked before midnight tonight.

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