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Council approves revisions to PUD Ordinance

Monday, June 23, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Council Members Brewster McCracken and Mike Martinez clashed during the final vote on the revised Planned Unit Development ordinance as the Council concluded its meeting early Thursday morning, disagreeing over what kind of latitude should be offered on affordable housing.

Planner Jerry Rusthoven walked the ordinance revisions through six commissions before bringing it to Council last week. The intention was to re-draft the Land Development Code guidelines — under the guidance of Martinez, McCracken and Council Member Lee Leffingwell— to provide additional specifics about what would be considered development “superior” enough for Council to grant additional variances.

But before the dust-up between McCracken and Martinez happened, Rusthoven presented an overview that covered many of the aspects of the ordinance that have been outlined in prior In Fact Daily stories: the pre-review by staff, followed by a briefing to Council; the baseline requirements to meet the threshold of superior; the second tier of additional advantages that would be considered in granting variances; and the specifics in areas such as what constitutes affordable housing.

Neighborhood activist Cathy Echols praised the efforts of Council to add predictability and consistency to the process. She also noted the benefit of bringing the plan to Council sooner. However, Echols also criticized the ordinance, saying it would not prevent the conflicts that cropped under during the Concordia PUD.

“The first issue is the lack of a requirement or encouragement for PUD developers to make a good faith effort to work with neighborhoods early in the process,” Echols said. “This should be required. A major factor in the Concordia controversy was that the developer did not enter into serious negotiations with the neighborhood until late in the process under tremendous time pressures.”

Echols also questioned the definition of baseline zoning, as defined under the ordinance. She wanted it to be current, rather than staff-suggested, zoning.  She also questioned why community benefits were set out only for the residential portion of a project and not the combination of commercial and residential uses.

If a project is only 10 percent residential, then affordable housing would only apply to 10 percent of that 10 percent, or simply 1 percent of the overall project.

“The affordability requirement should apply in some form to both residential and commercial square footage,” Echols said. “Otherwise, we risk encouraging commercial development at the expense of encouraging residential development. There are precedents for applying community benefits to commercial square footage on both VMU and the CBD and DMU affordability requirements.”

The disagreement between Martinez and McCracken happened when Martinez called for the approval of the ordinance, plus a minor amendment, on first reading. McCracken then offered up an amendment – which was considered far from friendly by Martinez – that would give the developer the option to base his affordable housing percentage on either the square footage or number of units.

This additional option was one supported by the real estate community. McCracken said it would give the Council wider latitude on options. Martinez disagreed. When Mayor Will Wynn asked whether Martinez could accept the “unit” amendment as friendly, Martinez said that he could not.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me to achieve affordability by allowing the option of doing a number of units as opposed to a percentage of the square footage,” Martinez said. “If you look at the cost of construction and the profit margin when you sell one of these units, it is exponentially cheaper to build a 500-square foot unit and sell it at affordable rates rather than a percentage we might set.”

What the city wanted to achieve with the percentage of habitable space on a property was to find a way to get developers to build a 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot condominium so folks that have kids and are married can purchase a condo, Martinez said.

“If we put an option that says percentage of square feet or number of units, they will take number of units every single time because it is the cheapest way to build and the cheapest way to meet the requirements, so I just can’t support it, and I can’t see how someone who is saying they want to support affordability would want to put this provision place,” Martinez said.

McCracken said he just wanted to give Council more flexibility. Assistant City Attorney Tom Nuckols, however, noted that Council had the right to waive any aspect of the PUD ordinance, including the affordability requirements.

Council voted 4-3 to support McCracken’s inclusion of the amendment, with Martinez, Leffingwell and Jennifer Kim voting against it. Martinez then made a motion, which was approved, that passed the ordinance on all three readings.

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