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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Council OKs managed growth agreement In Barton Springs zone
Apparently backed up against a legal cliff, Council members voted last week to move forward with a managed growth agreement for the Shady Hollow Garden Townhomes project in far southwest
Managed growth agreements can be used to extend the plats of large or long-term projects that offer the city “special benefits.” Once employed, they preserve regulations in place at the time of a project’s original platting.
The Shady Hollow project was initially approved in 2008. With Council’s okay, project developers can now build the project under grandfathered regulations that will allow them to bypass the Heritage Tree Ordinance and impervious cover restrictions that might otherwise be imposed on properties in the Barton Springs aquifer recharge zone.
Still, five Council members felt that the potential of a broad-strokes legal action – one that might challenge the city’s ability to impose strict development limitations – was more dangerous than the harm that might be caused by the development itself.
“I really, really, really don’t like this managed growth agreement,” Council Member Bill Spelman said, adding “it seems to me that no valid public purpose would be served by tilting at this particular windmill.”
Spelman moved approval. Council Members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley joined him, along with Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.
An opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott lurked behind Council discussion. In it, Abbott restricts Council’s ability to, as Council Member Bill Spelman put it, “expire somebody’s claim to grandfathering.”
The City of
Abbot’s opinion states that
The opinion was requested by State Rep. René Oliveira (D-Brownsville), who is chair of the House Committee on Land and Resource Management.
Though Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd was less-than definitive in how the opinion might be used in litigation, it was clear that Council members believed that it would be a significant obstacle.
Further, no representative from Shady Hollow’s developers, Madison City Homes, participated in Council discussion in the matter. That left Council members somewhat limited in actions they could take. “Certainly you can negotiate the terms of an MGA, but there is no one here to negotiate with,” said Leffingwell.
Council Member Kathie Tovo still tried to introduce three amendments that sought to claw back some of the regulatory ground that the city had lost in the matter. Leffingwell stepped in.
“Any changes to the regulations that existed at the time the…site plan was filed and commenced – anything additional to that would have the effect of not being able to pass this MGA today,” Leffingwell offered.
Lloyd said that changes, such as those offered by Tovo, would “fundamentally change the purpose of the MGA.”
Council Member Laura Morrison also seemed ready to challenge developers. Indeed, she and Leffingwell got in to a tense exchange. “If we were to approve something with…some element of an improvement, that would be our only opportunity as a Council to have a say in something different than what is being brought to us,” she offered.
Leffingwell shot back. “I’m not questioning the appropriateness,” he said. “Certainly, it’s appropriate to take that step. It’s also appropriate to turn down the MGA. My argument is that those two things are the same.”
“Yeah,” said Morrison, “I understand that that’s your opinion. And my opinion is that’s not necessarily so.”
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