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Council backs amended Vested Rights Ordinance on first reading

Friday, May 2, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The rocky road to approving a new Vested Rights Ordinance didn’t get much smoother at Thursday night’s City Council meeting, where the discussion to approve the ordinance on first reading managed to be both hopelessly detailed and strangely abstract all at once.


In the end Council members did approve the ordinance on first reading, with only Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting no. However, it was clear that there will be ample discussion at future readings, after Council has some time to think over what, exactly, they passed.


In shorthand language, Council approved the Planning Commission recommendations, with a lot of amendments. The long answer will take a bit of untangling.


“I’m not sure I completely understand, but that’s the beauty of three separate readings, I suppose,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “I think, symbolically, I’m going to vote no. Because I think there are a couple of serious flaws that would cause me, if they are not changed, to vote no,” said Leffingwell.


Though the Planning Commission recommendations are similar to the ordinance drawn up by staff, there were a handful of key differences. Faced with pages of amendments from the dais, Council members chose to vote on each amendment separately in a long, frequently-confusing discussion about the new ordinance.


Many of the amendments were struck down.


Others survived – at least until the next reading.


The Planning Commission recommended hard cap of nine years for both commercial and residential projects will remain in place. But Council also opted to add a one-time, one-year administrative extension that would allow a little flexibility for projects that are in the works and making consistent progress.


Another amendment by Council Member Bill Spelman, which would allow for even more administrative flexibility, was struck down.


“This is the dreaded daisy chain, where a site plan can, essentially, live forever,” said Council Member Laura Morrison, who said that such extensions might best be addressed by retroactive Managed Growth Agreements, called MGAs, which would be approved by City Council, though that part of the ordinance remains to be worked out.


“We’ve been advised that we are very much within our authority to have expiration of projects… Once you’ve passed that nine years, you don’t get any more extensions,” said Morrison. “We can set the standard for reasonable time limits. In extraordinary circumstances… there will be a way to extend it with Council consideration. I think that’s the appropriate way to do it.”


Council members also approved an amendment that requires applicants have an established, good reason for proceeding with a project consent agreement, which takes a vested rights claim to City Council for approval.


Council expanded the project consent agreement process, voting 6-1 to add a stop at the Environmental Board. Leffingwell voted against, and expressed concern that the addition could lengthen the development process further.


Council also tackled the issue of MGAs, which are used for projects that are larger and expected to be developed over a longer period of time than most developments. These are, commonly, used for development agreements for things like churches – which require long periods of times to raise funds – or multifaceted projects like the Mueller Development, which are planned to develop over a long period of time by their nature.


Council passed some criteria for proactive MGAs. However, they opted to hold off on passing any criteria for retroactive MGAs, where development is granted an MGA after being in process. Though Spelman presented an amendment to address that situation, it failed to win a majority as written. He promised to return with a more palatable amendment  that would win more support for the next reading.


The Vested Rights Ordinance is expected to return to City Council May 22.

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