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Council aims to stop proposal for automatic site plan extensions

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Last fall, as the nation headed into economic turmoil, a group of development agents asked the city to change regulations relating to site plans. It was getting harder to secure credit to build, so developers wanted an extension on expiring site plans, so they wouldn’t expire before they were ready to build. 


Developer Tom Terkel says, “We asked the city to declare a two-year timeout on the expirations of site plans.  So that people who, through no fault of their own, were incapable of building wouldn’t have to go back through the process again.”


Land Strategies founder Paul Linehan told members of the ZAP last month 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.”


In December, the Council passed a resolution asking the city manager to start a public discussion on the matter, vetting the extension idea through hearings at the Environmental Board, Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission. 


In addition, the Council said that developers who wanted to take advantage of the two-year extension would have to show that they were in compliance with changes in flood plain regulations, as well as environmental, water quality and sidewalk regulations that were changed after the application was filed, according to Assistant City Attorney Tom Nuckols.


Some neighborhood and environmental activists were opposed to the extension and commission members did not get behind it either.


That was not what developers had in mind. Terkel said Monday that he got busy with other projects, but, “like everything in Austin,” the site plan extension idea, “took on a life of its own.”


In an Austin timeframe, it was a short life. Council Members Randi Shade and Laura Morrison have an item on this week’s agenda directing the city manager to cease the process for considering extending site plans administratively.


Shade said, “We want to do something constructive during these difficult economic times, but site plan extensions and project duration dates are too imbedded in the site development process. They touch too many things and altering them or extending them has too many unforeseen consequences.”


Terkel said he was not surprised to hear that the Council was killing the site plan extension idea since it had become so complicated. “If it got complicated that would defeat the whole purpose,” as opposed to a simple blanket extension.


“If they could have done that,” he said, “it would have saved us and the city a lot of useless time and expense reviewing the same site plans. There’s an awful lot of economic pain that people are incurring…it would have been a simple way to alleviate a small part of it. It shows you once again that no idea is too simple to screw up.”


Developers can still ask the ZAP for an extension on their site plans.

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