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Planning Commission votes for changes to flag lots

Thursday, September 29, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission has decided to push Council into an area where the city’s Law Department does not want it to go: enforcing private deed restrictions on flag lots.


How to subdivide a piece of land to include a flag lot, with its small frontage on local streets, has been a point of contention for at least two years, first with the Zoning and Platting Commission and then with the Planning Commission, which is charged with proposing ordinance changes to Council.


Most of the concern has to do with public safety and potential access for fire equipment. But commissioners have also been frustrated that the city is approving plats that violate deed restrictions, an issue city staff is loathe to confront, fearing it brings with it a variety of rules the city would have to enforce.


The Zoning and Platting Commission first raised the issue. Then came a series of meetings with stakeholders, followed by negotiations with Travis County over what land use requirements are enforceable under a single code.


“There never was a 100 percent consensus on how and what to enforce,” planner Don Perryman told the Planning Commission on Tuesday night. “It stalled out quite a bit on what, if any, of these recommendations the county was really interested in enforcing. In the end, the only one they were really interested in was increasing the minimum width from 15 to 20 feet.” 


Once ZAP was done with the issue, it moved on to the Planning Commission’s Codes & Ordinances Committee, followed by the full Planning Commission.


The women on the commission — that would be Commissioners Saundra Kirk, Mandy Dealey, Danette Chimenti, Jean Stevens, and Donna Tiemann — saw the enforcement of deed restrictions as feasible, despite Perryman’s protests.


Agent Mike McHone provided fuel to the fire for such conjecture, noting that forms submitted to the city require an agent or developer to check a box that states that a subdivision does not violate an existing deed restriction. Kirk said knowing a subdivision is illegal on a form is tacitly agreeing to it.


“I don’t know what to call it, quite,” Kirk told her colleagues. “It seems that we are passively violating that deed restriction.”


Those less inclined to support the city enforcement of deed restrictions were Chair Dave Sullivan and Commissioners David Anderson, Richard Hatfield, and Alfonso Hernandez. Sullivan pointed out that there is no particular enforcement mechanism for determining whether an agent checked the box or not, and Perryman agreed that while some argue that the city should enforce deed restrictions, the city has no explicit power granted by state law that would allow them to do so.


The commission recommendation to Council states that a flag lot will be rejected if it is “in violation of private deed restrictions against resubdivisions.” Among the other points rolled into the recommendation:


— A new definition of flag lot stating that it is “a strip of land that does not comply with the requirements of minimum lot width but is no less than 20 feet in width,” up from the prior requirement of 15 feet;


— All residential resubdivisions utilizing a flag-lot design must submit a driveway plan and a utility plan for review and approval with the final plat application;


— All addresses for residential lots utilizing a flag lot design must be displayed at the street for emergency responders; and


 — Residential flag lot designs that include three or more units would have to be constructed with a central fire lane to provide access for emergency responders.


The final vote was 7-2, with Hatfield and Hernandez in opposition. The recommendations now move on to Council for approval.

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