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Planning Commission rejects plan to let businesses use park parking lots

Friday, May 17, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission last week voted unanimously to send a plan that would allow businesses to use Parks and Recreation parking back to the drawing board. It is an attempt to help businesses that do not have enough parking under city code.


“In theory it’s a good idea,” said Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez. “I hate the way it’s being implemented. I don’t think the ordinance is well-written at all.”


The entire Planning Commission agreed, voting 9-0 against the code amendment as it is currently written.


The proposal comes out of December 2012 City Council Resolution asking staff to look into the viability of letting Austin businesses use city park parking lots. City Council proposed the plan as a direct result of ongoing parking issues at Casa de Luz. (See In Fact Daily December 12, 2012)


In order to do this, City Council stipulated that qualifying businesses must be within 1,000 feet of park land and offer proof that they cannot provide adequate parking. In return for the parking, the businesses would finance park amenities, probably through a fee-in-lieu. Each agreement would require a Chapter 26 hearing, and be evaluated by the Parks Director individually.


“This is really not good public policy, for us to be doing an ordinance, especially one that has so many unanswered questions, that has really, really been written for one business, and it’s a business that’s been out of compliance for years,” said Commissioner Danette Chimenti. “I particularly have issues with the cost to the city, and I think there are liability issues, and I think there’s no way we will even come close to recuperating the staff costs and other things involved here.”


“I also have issues with giving businesses competitive advantages over another. I don’t think that’s good public policy either,” said Chimenti.


According to a presentation by Parks and Recreation’s Ricardo Soliz, there are 3,200 businesses that could qualify for the parking program. The proposal could impact 93 city parks that have businesses within 1,000 feet. Of that number, 53 are in the urban core.


He later clarified that his department had yet to determine how many of those parks had excess parking available, and said they would do that evaluation later in the process. Nor does the department have a count of how many spaces would be available.


The fee-in-lieu also remains to be determined. Soliz  told the commission that evaluation would be performed by a third-party appraiser, who would perform this valuation for each application.


When asked about concerns with park liability and curfew hours in the city parks, Soliz  explained that they would be addressed in the agreements. He told the commission that they had yet to consider enforcement of the new program.


Several community members spoke in opposition to the proposal.


David King called the plan “not even halfway baled.”


“It’s really a hopeless case. It’s misguided. It needs to be thrown away,” said King. “The expense just to go through this process is going to be onerous on the city… The ordinance is really likely to generate a negative cash flow for the city.”


The proposal is headed to the Parks and Recreation Board on May 28, then on to City Council June 6.

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