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City looking at changes for site plan extensions

Monday, December 15, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Under a resolution approved by the City Council Thursday, developers with already approved site plans may be able to extend the life of those plans for an extra two years. Site plans currently have three-year limit but the shaky economy is causing developers to shelve some plans for the near future.


A number of builders and developers have approached city staff, complaining that the current fiscal crisis is making it difficult to complete plans and obtain financing in the three-year window. Currently the city staff can administratively grant a one-year extension, but backers of the measure want it extended to two years.


Site plans are a description of a builder’s plans for a project that outline the steps the builder is taking to meet city regulations for land use and construction. Most site plans are reviewed and approved by staff in the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, though some are required to get Planning Commission approval.


During public comment on the measure, neighborhood activist Carol Gibbs told Council members that she was concerned about the unintended consequences of automatically adding two years.


“I am opposed to automatically adding two years to site plans,” she said. “I don’t believe the implications of this have been properly vetted. In addition, I believe it will place an additional amount of work on an already overworked review staff. I believe the city should continue to use the tools it has in place.”


Gibbs also said granting two-year extensions administratively would take the public input out of the process.


WPDR Director Victoria Li said out of the 608 site plans filed last year, only a very few were granted extensions. However, she noted that there are about 3,300 active site plans on file with the city, all of which could become eligible for an administrative extension.


Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken asked staff if extended site plans would be grandfathered if regulations in areas such as sidewalks or flood plains changed after they was originally filed. Staff said that in most cases a site plan would have to be updated, but that it was up to the Council to decide if a plan should be altered to meet new regulations in order to get an extension.


Council Member Laura Morrison moved that the Council accept the resolution with an amendment that would not make extensions automatic, but would be based on the developer’s willingness to comply with the regulations in place at the time a site plan extension is requested.


McCracken said he wanted to make certain that regulations on sidewalks, flood plains and environmental regulations were included in any extensions granted.


Council members voted 7-0 to approve the resolution.

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