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Council may help artists, others with code compliance issues

Monday, May 9, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The City Council appears set to consider changes to city code that could allow some leeway for building code and land use violators.


This Thursday, Council will consider a resolution that would make it easier for artists who participate in area art tours to sell their work during those events. If approved, the document would instruct City Manager Marc Ott to amend city code to make it legal for artists to offer items for sale from their homes as part of a tour for up to six days a year.


On April 28, the Council set a public hearing for an ordinance that would further amend city code to recognize the hardship faced by homeowners who are unaware of code issues that are present on their property. If passed, that action would expand an amnesty program already offered by the city. The hearing is set for May 26.


Some artists were cited in November during last year’s edition of the East Austin Studio Tour for selling work out of their homes. That action is a technical violation of the city’s code, even though the city was one of the tour’s sponsors.


Council members Randi Shade and Chris Riley, as well as Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, are sponsoring Thursday’s resolution. It notes that limited arts sales are currently allowed over the Internet and that such events as the East Austin Studio Tour are an economic benefit to the city.


“Sometimes it’s just a matter of the city getting out of the way,” said Glen Coleman, an aide to Shade. “Art and art shows are good for the culture of our city and good for business.” Coleman, Matt Parkerson in Riley’s office, and Martinez’ aides Andy Moore and Bobby Garza have fielded numerous calls on the matter.


The resolution also clarifies that any changes to city code would “not waive applicable land use codes or health and safety regulations.” However, it also seems to wade into a discussion about the impact of code compliance complaints on such tours. “(C)ity regulations protect neighborhoods and impact the success of tours, art production and home art sales,” it reads.


In addition to the changes that would specifically allow artists to sell their work during tour events, the resolution calls for staff to bring forward code amendments so that art sales could also happen as part of “garage sales or similar events” that are not affiliated with any sort of tour. That exemption would allow artists to offer such sales “for up to four-days per year when not associated with a tour.”


If the resolution passes, staff will have 60 days to present a draft of the code changes to Council.


Council will also address the issue of code-compliance amnesty.


In October 2009, anonymous tips led to 76 notices of code compliance violations in the Fairview neighborhood. The incident received a fair amount of press and caused some heartburn for city officials.


In August of 2010, a floodplain variance was granted to the residents of Fairview who needed the reprieve to bring their homes into compliance with city code. Homeowners who had other outstanding code issues were given an extension that allowed them until December 31 to address their violations.


The measure set for the May 26 hearing would recognize that “conditions non-compliant with building permit and land use codes may exist on certain residential properties within the City of Austin and that many long-term property owners may not be aware of these conditions.” It would, “as a means to address compliance and life safety issues and equitability … allow an expansion of the city’s amnesty program by authorizing the Board of Adjustment to grant a special exception in limited circumstances, as authorized by State law.”

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