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Monday, September 30, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano
Council agrees to allow loading and unloading in downtown alleys
After a surprisingly lengthy debate on the issue, the City Council agreed to continue to allow downtown businesses to use alleys for loading and unloading, legally.
At first glance, the idea of using alleys for that purpose may not seem especially controversial, but it proved just that Thursday, when Council took up the issue of purposes and re-purposes of the city’s downtown alleys yet again.
Council Member Kathie Tovo made the push for a delay to explore a more creative use of alleys downtown, saying the original language that allowed loading and unloading as a permitted use as a compromise that was struck with an intent that it expire “within a reasonable period.”
Council Member Chris Riley had a different recollection of the change to the code. He said that a peculiarity in the code had prohibited loading and unloading in alleys and that had been corrected to allow for what “seems like a basic function of alleys.”
“That is historically, and just by their very nature what alleys are for,” said Riley.
He explained that the code was modified to say that loading and unloading was a permitted use and unless City Council took some action, the code would revert to that former prohibition.
Council members voted 5-2 to maintain the changed language, with Council Members Laura Morrison and Tovo voting in opposition.
Tovo worried that the change would prevent events and ventures in the alleys, and said that national alley studies backed up that fear.
“If you allow loading and unloading as a matter of right in our downtown alleys from here on out, I think we will be closing down our options before we even investigate what those options are,” said Tovo.
This argument carried little weight with the majority of Council, whose votes indicated that they wished that loading and unloading in downtown areas remain one of those options.
“I’m a big supporter of creative use for our alleys, and I enjoyed that event that we had just recently. I’m a supporter of the alley master plan. I’m also a big supporter for the use of our streets for events. And what we’ve seen is that, if managed properly, we’re able to handle events in our alleys or streets even when those alleys or streets are used for other things,” said Riley.
Currently, staff estimates that an alley master plan would run about $200,000 and take 18 months to complete – once that unavailable funding becomes available.
“Based on what we are hearing from staff, it will be quite some time before we have the alley master plan in place,” said Riley. “In the meantime, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to continue using our alleys for unloading and loading – not just for the next six months, but for an indefinite period going forward.”
“That’s a basic function of alleys and it should be allowed,” said Riley.
Council Member Mike Martinez noted the inconvenience drivers experience when beer truck and musical groups use the streets, rather than alleys for loading and unloading.
“Especially on Sixth Street, you have beer trucks and musician’s trucks on each lane on the north and south side, when you have alleys behind those exact same structures that could be used,” said Martinez. “I just wish we could have a broader conversation about where we could take advantage of those opportunities and improve mobility.”
“I think the whole Council supports the creative use of our alleys,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. “We also have businesses that need the ability to load and unload and we should not be vague about that in the interim.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.