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Commission debates site plan extensions

Thursday, February 19, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The Zoning and Platting Commission will hold a special called meeting next month to discuss a recommendation to the City Council on extending the expiration dates for approved site plans. The Council considered the matter at the end of 2008, but sent the idea to the city’s boards and commissions for review before making a decision. Members of the ZAP want to hear what the Environmental Board and Planning Commission have to say about the proposal before making their recommendation to the Council.


Agents who work with developers have been pushing for the change. Land Strategies founder Paul Linehan told members of the ZAP that the current three-year limit on site plans was impractical given the current state of the economy. “I’ve been before the commission many times asking for extensions, especially for schools and churches, because they can’t raise the money,” Linehan said. “It’s really about the economy right now. There are people who have gone through the city process for over a year to get their site plan done, they have architects doing designs, and they’ve lost financing and can’t move. We are talking about people’s survival and not losing major investments they have had.”


Commissioners had questions about whether extending current site plans from three years to five years would necessitate any changes to those plans. “Council was very clear that in order to take advantage of the two-year extension, you would have to come back and comply with changes in flood plain regulations,” said Assistant City Attorney Tom Nuckols. “You would have to comply with environmental, water quality and sidewalk regulations that were changed after your application was filed.”


Other developer representatives told the commission that the proposal shouldn’t force property owners to modify their site plans to comply with changes in regulations. “This started off as a simple process. It was intended to be a simple approval, and the change would be temporary,” said Real Estate Council of Austin Board Member Peter Cesaro. “It was a one-time event. It would come off the books once this economy, hopefully, turns around.”


One environmental representative urged the ZAP to accept the staff’s interpretation of the extensions. “I don’t think we need to talk about the intent behind it,” said Andrew Hawkins with the Save Our Springs Alliance. “The resolution is clear. I don’t think it poses a problem in terms of state law. It talks about what happens when you come to ask for an extension, which is a discretionary act.”


The proposal for the two-year extension would still allow for a one-year administrative extension and additional extensions by the Zoning and Platting Commission or the Planning Commission. The ZAP will hold a special called meeting on March 10 to discuss the idea. That meeting will include an option for public comment. The commission also requested information on how many site plans would be affected by the change.

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