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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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ZAP forms work group to address possible city code amendment
Friday, May 6, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
The Zoning and Platting Commission delayed passage of an ordinance initiated by the Planning Commission, opting instead to form a short-term work group to answer the many questions raised at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The ordinance would amend the city code to allow the City Council or Land Use Commission to initiate single zoning cases for non-contiguous properties. Currently, cases can only be consolidated if they are not divided by a right of way. Additionally, the ordinance would waive zoning application fees for annexed properties for one year following annexation.
Commissioners were hesitant to approve the ordinance without a deeper understanding of its potential ramifications. They will vote on the ordinance at their May 17 meeting, following the meeting of a work group comprised of commissioners Donna Tiemann, Gregory Bourgeois, and Sandra Baldridge. The work group will meet with the Planning and Development Review Department before the next commission meeting.
Jackie Chuter, a senior planner with the Planning and Development Review Department, explained the purpose of the ordinance to the commission, emphasizing that it would increase efficiency.
“Allowing non-contiguous tracts within a single case is necessary to allow the city to clean up over 14,000 acres of interim zoning in the city’s jurisdiction. Some of the properties have had interim zoning for more than 10 years,” said Chuter. “To initiate zoning of these properties under current code would create an enormous administrative burden.”
The second part of the ordinance, the fee waiver, is designed to reduce the number of properties in the city that could become nonconforming following annexation.
Chuter explained that while state law dictates that the city must allow continuation of established land uses after annexation, “most property owners do not apply for zoning unless they are planning to redevelop the property.”
“As a result, the number of nonconforming uses increases each year,” said Chuter, who added that the fee waiver would only apply to properties annexed after the passage of the code change.
Tiemann summed up what seemed to be the opinion of the entire commission, saying, “It’s a little bit cloudy. There are aspects of it that seem to make a lot of sense, but I have a lot of questions about it as well.”
Some commissioners questioned the fairness of waiving fees for some property owners but not others. Others were unclear on how the non-contiguous properties would be grouped together and were not completely reassured by Chuter’s answer.
“We haven’t determined a size, but it would probably be based on a neighborhood, a rational community,” said Chuter.
Bourgeois was troubled by the process for initiating zoning cases, which originates with the city, much like a neighborhood plan. Property owners would be able to come before the commission to voice their concerns if they disagreed with the rezoning.
“This may be treating the problem from a staff level, but I don’t know that it’s treating it from a planning level, or from a fairness to the individual landowners,” said Baldridge.
City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance June 9.
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