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Cole to seek changes in revised PUD ordinance

Thursday, June 5, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Council Member Sheryl Cole plans to introduce changes during today’s meeting to the revised ordinance governing Planned Unit Developments. Specifically, Cole would like to eliminate a proposal to require PUDs to go through a three-member Council subcommittee before going through the normal development process, the most controversial part of the ordinance.

A number of PUDs – Fairfield and East Avenue included – have come through Council in recent years. It has almost become the default zoning for larger developments, said Planner Jerry Rusthoven at this week’s Design Commission meeting.

“If you want to exceed the FAR and height limitations – and you’re not downtown where you have the CURE tool or affordable housing incentive task force – then it becomes easier to seek a PUD than to go to the Board of Adjustment and prove a hardship,” Rusthoven said. “Obviously, you’ve got developers who simply want to make more money through greater height and density. That’s not a hardship, so the PUD becomes obvious.”

Cole has suggested the applicant would ask the director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department to present a report to the Council, making a recommendation on whether the development would satisfy the requirement that the PUD base zoning be “superior” to regular zoning. Superior, as defined under the revised ordinance, would include some baseline requirements plus additional community benefits that would be weighed in light of variances.

In Cole’s suggested pre-screening of PUDs, the whole Council could then make comments on the superiority level of a PUD without a three-member committee—a recommendation from Council Member Mike Martinez. Martinez wants the most important negotiations hammered out at Council, rather than having Council offer final approval of a document in which the developer made particular concessions to win the support of a particular neighborhood organization.

Under Cole’s scenario, the PUD still starts out at Council. It still has initial Council input. “We could have a briefing and have Council feedback and have the results of that still go back to staff,” she explained.

Cole said she has talked to other Council Members and to members of the development community who said the solution would be acceptable to them.

When the Council has made comments, the PUD proposal would begin going through the current development process, with city staff understanding additional considerations the Council would like to see—such as more Green Building or affordable housing or detention ponds, she said.

Martinez aide Andy Moore said, “We think that’s fine. It meets the intent of the early public negotiations.” He said as long as there is early feedback from the City Council on the direction of the PUD, it would meet Martinez’ requirement that the Council get in on the action sooner rather than later.

While the Planning Commission has made comments, other city commissions have yet to weigh in. The Zoning and Platting Commission agenda was not properly posted, so the ZAP did not meet this week. At the Design Commission this week, Rusthoven said the Design Commission intended to meet during lunch on Monday, June 9, to address its recommendations for the ordinance.

During a wide-ranging discussion at this week’s Design Commission meeting, commissioners got into a dialogue with Rusthoven on the justification of separating zoning and site plans.

Separating zoning from the site plan process is something of a chicken-and-egg issue. Zoning is intended to give some predictability to development, but neighborhoods often want to see particulars on issues such as setback and height. In a PUD that is exacerbated because the city gives the developer such wide latitude to put together more creative development.

At the same time, locking in both site plans and zoning means the site plan can run with the property forever, Rusthoven said. That is why so many office buildings exist on South MoPac – the zoning site plans were approved back in the ‘80s before stricter city regulations.

“There’s that tension between neighborhoods wanting more detail and something to look at and the ability of the city to change a relationship with a developer over time, especially if we feel that zoning and site plan regulations are getting better and better as we go along,” Rusthoven said.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance at 6pm tonight.

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