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Council to seek agreement with state over property development

Thursday, November 8, 2012 by Michael Kanin

A pending evaluation by the Texas Facilities Commission of lands that the State of Texas owns in the City of Austin is raising questions about how the two entities will interact – and specifically whether city zoning rules would apply – should the state seek to redevelop some of the property it owns.


Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole hopes to confront all of this by proposing an interlocal agreement that would put city staff at the center of the state’s efforts. Council members are set to vote on the deal during today’s City Council meeting.


However, not all of Cole’s colleagues seem ready to sign off on the agreement just yet. At Council’s regular Tuesday work session, Council Member Laura Morrison, brought up her concerns, some of which revolved around the TFC, the city’s potential partner in the deal. She pointed to local involvement in the Triangle mix-used project at Lamar Boulevard and 38th Street.


“It was explained that the Triangle was under the control of the General Land Office, as opposed to the Texas Facilities Commission, and by statute the interaction with the Facilities Commission is much more top-down . . ” she said. “Let me just say that it’s more challenging to the community, I gather, to work with the Facilities Commission because of their structure, versus the GLO.”


Morrison also raised the question of state willingness (or, perhaps, lack thereof) to bend to local land development codes. “I understand there may be some disagreement on the parties’ parts as to whether they’re subject to our land development codes.”


Cole later told In Fact Daily, “We have an opportunity to sit at the table early in the process with the state in their plans to redevelop most of their properties within the City of Austin. This will be a tremendous increase in our tax base,” she said. “The state has a significant amount of underutilized assets, which they intend to redevelop. We have a chance to be at the table to make sure that the plans are consistent with the Imagine Austin Plan.”


According to a 2012 report published by the Facilities Commission, the commission operates the 122-acre Capitol complex, the 326.5 acres that comprise the North Austin Complex and roughly 76 “under-developed” acres at the Bull Creek Annex. The report goes on to detail the consolidation and development potential for those three segments of property.


Though it is not included in the report, it appears as though property at Camp Mabry may also be evaluated for development potential.


“Under-developed property in the Capitol Complex has the potential to provide an additional 7.1 million Sq. Ft. of newly built facilities,” reads the report. ”TFC has identified approximately 1.3 million Sq. Ft. of state leases for consolidation into new state office facilities; and the remaining 5.8 million Sq. Ft. represents a significant new non-tax revenue generating opportunity to the State.”


The commission report is just as rosy about the potential for the Bull Creek Annex and the North Austin Complex. “TFC has identified 80 acres of under-developed assets in the North Austin Complex; 812,000 Sq. Ft. of commercial leases costing $11.4 million a year can be absorbed in new facilities constructed on existing state land; and yield approximately 60 acres for redevelopment,” it continues. “The Bull Creek Annex represents 76.7 acres of development potential.”


Though the City of Austin’s tax rolls would likely benefit from the development suggested by the report, that bonus could be mitigated by the potential zoning conflict hinted at by Morrison. Should TFC officials deem their property exempt from the city’s land development code, it would also remove hard-won zoning restrictions from land that would become instantly ready for development. 


Cole’s resolution seeks to head some of this off. It would authorize City Manager Marc Ott to negotiate and execute an agreement between the City and the Facilities Commission that would promise the state both staff time and funds to support its master planning effort for the properties it owns around Austin.


In closing Tuesday’s discussion on the matter, Mayor Lee Leffingwell offered his colleagues a blunt assessment of the situation. He turned to Cole: “I appreciate you bringing this item forward because I think it’s important that we have these discussions,” he said. “It’s probably too much to say that we’re in the role of supplicant on this, but we’re probably pretty close.”

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