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Planning subcommittee to study Land Development Code changes

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission Codes and Ordinances subcommittee will be taking a closer look today at proposed changes to the Land Development Code that would change some details of how land use determinations are made.


Council Member Kathie Tovo sponsored the resolution initiating the changes. Her office told In Fact Daily that the resolution was an attempt to close a gap. Though interested parties already have the right to appeal within 20 days of a land use determination, there is no provision for notification.


Consequently, the 20-day period can easily pass without anyone being aware that there was a determination in the first place.


According to staff, most of the time land use determination is clearly defined in the city code, and there is very little interpretation involved. What the changes to the code will do is lower the threshold for notification, and alert interested parties to cases that might be more controversial.


“Our task is to develop something which provides the notification that Council has requested, and makes the process a little more transparent, but it doesn’t also bog down every building permit, every site plan exemption,” Robert Heil of the Planning and Development Review Department told In Fact Daily. “The tremendous taxpayer expense of notification and slowing the whole thing down, that was not really the intent of the Council resolution.”


There are currently no notifications for administrative land use determinations. Heil told In Fact Daily that the department is proposing land use determination notification under three circumstances.


The first category is when the land use determination is a novel use. “If someone comes up with something new, and we don’t have a good way of fitting it into the land development code, we’ll make a land use determination, and we will notify for that,” said Heil.


Notification would also occur when the determination was part of a site plan. Right now, it is proposed to be part of the site plan notification, with interested parties able to appeal land use determinations at that time.


Additionally, developers who disagreed with the city’s land use determination could themselves request a hearing to appeal, which would also trigger notification to neighbors and interested parties.


In both cases, the Board of Adjustment would hear the appeals.


When developers requested a formal, written land use determination from Planning and Development Review, they would also notify interested parties and neighbors within 500 feet.


“I don’t anticipate that this will happen all that often. But I could be wrong,” Heil said. “People might get more involved, the potential exists for nuisance appeals… But most of the time, we’ve got a pretty good idea. Our land use development code slices up pretty small. It’s usually pretty clear what it is. But we’re talking about a couple of real-world cases now where it wasn’t.”


This was the case for opponents of the PromiseLand West Church in Southwest Austin. The church includes a plan for a 1,000seat arena. Approval of its development, which took place with virtually no public input, has surrounding neighbors irate.


Though a change to the code will not impact development of PromiseLand West, neighbors came out to the Planning Commission last week in order to support the amendment.


Commissioners opted to examine the issue further in order to get more information on the changes and allow staff to come up with a more complete draft than what was presented at their last meeting.


Commissioner Danette Chimenti made the motion to send the proposed ordinance change back to the subcommittee, saying that she was “really uncomfortable” with what staff had presented. “I think we need a lot of discussion on this,” said Chimenti.


Following today’s hearing at the Codes and Ordinances subcommittee, the draft ordinance will return to the Planning Commission on February 28, and is scheduled to go back to Council on March 8.

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