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Council to study possible extension of time for demolition permits

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 by Michael Kanin

An ordinance change brought forward by Council Member Chris Riley and Mayor Lee Leffingwell would extend the amount of time before a demolition permit expires from six months to two years in most cases. The change is set for a Thursday vote.


Council members appear likely to discuss the idea at this morning’s work session. Council Member Laura Morrison told In Fact Daily that she has concerns about the idea. “I think it needs more work,” Morrison said.


Lurking in the background is recent trouble with a property slated to become a downtown Austin campus for Cirrus Logic, Inc. The Historic Landmark Commission delayed a demolition permit for an existing structure that would be razed to make room for the campus after neighbors raised concerns that demolition had started before the permitting process was complete. (See In Fact Daily, March 27)


Neighbors had asked the commission for time to study whether Cirrus’ action had violated city code. The case is set to return to the Historic Landmark Commission on April 22. The commission, already seemingly frustrated with Cirrus, could decide not to release the demolition permit if they remain unsatisfied with the situation.


Riley confirmed that the pending change to the demolition permit rules would impact the Cirrus property. “This would address the concern about that particular property because Cirrus is not ready to proceed with construction of anything to replace that property,” he said.


In a more general statement, Riley told In Fact Daily that the measure could help stave off the creation of under-utilized space. “In the past we have seen some instances where a building was taken down long before anyone was ready to proceed with construction to replace (it),” Riley said. “There have been reports that in at least some of these cases the buildings were taken down because the demolition permits were expiring.”


He pointed to several downtown properties that had proceeded with demolition of existing space before finalizing reconstruction plans. Riley named the former Las Manitas property – demolished with no small amount of community pain. He also named a building “right at 5th and Lavaca (that) was taken down and replaced with a surface lot.”


Some of this is thanks to a timing issue. Demolition permits currently expire after six months. Though an extension of another 180 days is almost always granted, that can still leave developers unready to begin construction before the extension runs out.


In addition to the change from a six-month permit to a two-year version, Riley and Leffingwell would add a one-year extension. That would turn what had been basically one year to demolish into three.


The ordinance change also allows only six additional months if the demolition portion of a project is begun but not completed before the expiration of an initial permit.


Morrison said that she worried about the potential costs of software changes that the city would need to make to its AMANDA project-tracking database. AMANDA, she said, would need to be reconfigured to account for the ordinance changes. “I’d like to see a financial impact analysis,” she said.


Though Morrison said that protections in the ordinance that would not allow developers to stretch out demolition once they’d begun were positive steps, she remains concerned about the overall would-be new demo time. “(The resolution) doesn’t address the problem that you could start (a project) with a permit on day one and take two years to do it,” she added.


Morrison also pointed to concerns from active Hyde Park resident Karen McGraw. McGraw, said Morrison, pointed out that under the current demolition practice neighborhoods would get to weigh in every six months if changes such as a new local historic district might be impact the weight of a given property demolition.


A rezoning for the Cirrus campus is also set for a Thursday vote. That item – with possible CURE considerations, and the baggage that topic brings, is also set for a discussion at tonight’s Planning Commission meeting.

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