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Concrete policy remains abstract for now

Thursday, September 25, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A change that could allow more overnight concrete installation downtown faced City Council scrutiny at Tuesday’s work session.

“This is where the rubber meets the road, when you are trying to manage the balance between a residential downtown and a downtown that is vibrant and growing,” said Council Member Laura Morrison. “I don’t feel this gets to the balance yet.”

Currently, city code prohibits construction noise and heavy equipment use at night, but there is an exception in the Central Business District for concrete trucks, which can obtain a 72-hour permit that allows overnight operation.

Council is considering an ordinance that would expand this allowance to the DMU and publicly zoned properties. The ordinance would also implement noticing requirements.

Planning and Development Review director Greg Guernsey said that, historically, “staff has just issued these permits” and police have handled complaints.

Morrison brought up the construction of the W downtown, whose labor and concrete trucks caused nearby residences to be “unlivable.” Though the permits are for 72 hours, the code allows them to be “stacked,” which can lead to months — not days — of sleep disruption near large construction sites.

“For me that’s a public health issue,” Morrison said. “We do not want people who aren’t sleeping. Because people who don’t get sleep … it leads to real issues. I’m real concerned about this. If there was some way to add a limit to the number of permits, I think it would be so much more workable.”

Morrison said it might make sense to postpone the item, in order to give staff time to research how many total days have been permitted for projects, and whether construction of the W was an anomaly. She also asked for future projections for city projects, like the new Central Library.

Council Member Chris Riley said he shared Morrison’s concerns, as did a number of downtown residents.

“They, understandably, make the point that if we are trying to promote downtown as a good place to live, then why should it be subject to such a different standard than a residential neighborhood?” said Riley.

Guernsey explained that night permits allowed concrete to be poured when there is less traffic. It is also safer for construction workers, who may become endangered when the heat generated by pouring concrete combines with Austin’s summer temperatures. Additionally, lines of concrete trucks can negatively affect other businesses.

Guernsey said his office had also heard concerns about where trucks queued up — though the city has no way to regulate that — as well as complaints about noisy concrete pumps and construction lighting. He said they were looking into those issues.

Riley said he was interested in knowing how other cities handled the problem. Guernsey responded that this information could be available by the Oct. 2 meeting. In general terms, he said that some cities granted night permits for downtown areas, while others will not issue them but do allow longer evening hours.

During discussion of the ordinance, there was widespread support for a postponement of the item, which was scheduled for today’s meeting.


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