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Council sets overnight concrete pour ordinance

Friday, November 21, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Following lengthy discussion and public input, City Council unanimously passed an interim ordinance Thursday that limits overnight concrete pouring in parts of downtown from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. and initiates a 60-day stakeholder process for a permanent solution.

The ordinance, which will expire after 120 days, includes a grandfather clause that exempts building permits that have already been filed and allows the city to give out permits that extend until 6 a.m. under “special circumstances.”

Currently, Central Business District-zoned properties are eligible for overnight pouring permits from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m., and public-zoned properties are not. The new ordinance will amend city code to allow overnight pouring on both, subject to the new restrictions. Daytime pouring hours are from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for all other neighborhoods in Austin.

The ordinance applies only to properties within the downtown density bonus area. It does not apply to downtown properties zoned for mixed use, as it did in an earlier draft.

Council amended the ordinance to include recommendations from the Downtown Commission, which met Wednesday night.

Those amendments included requirements that developers provide sound and light mitigation plans to the city for overnight pours, that the city create a process for developers to notify nearby residents and business owners of planned pours, and that Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey establish rules and limitations for issuing permits under special circumstances.

These rules may include limitations on the number of permits the city may award per project over a certain period of time or the number of days the permit is valid, an appeal clause and a grandfathering clause. The grandfathering clause does not apply to sound and light mitigation.

The ordinance also makes a distinction between pouring and finishing, the step after pouring that involves leveling and smoothing the concrete and does not make as much noise. It allows for finishing to take place until 6 a.m., though Council Member Laura Morrison asked that this issue be discussed thoroughly in the stakeholder process.

Public comment on the item was essentially divided between those who said that the noise and light from overnight pouring is making it difficult for them to sleep, and those who said that limiting pouring hours would negatively impact current projects and employees and create public safety issues by increasing daytime activity and traffic congestion.

Several downtown Austinites lamented the sleep deprivation that the late-night pouring has caused them. In order to convey the gravity of the situation, resident David Weiser read a passage from Shakespeare’s Macbeth about “murdering sleep,” and how it affects one’s quality of life.

Those representing developers and contractors talked about the disruption that can result from losing the ability to pour overnight while a project is underway and the impact it can have on the value and timeliness of a project.

Neighborhood association representatives acknowledged both sides of the argument, but were generally against the ordinance as staff initially presented it to Council.

President of the Old Austin Neighborhood Association Ted Siff said that his organization is in favor of the mitigation techniques that the Downtown Commission suggested, but said that changing the pouring hours could result in “a lot of unintended consequences.”

Public Works Department Director Howard Lazarus explained that pouring concrete in the heat of the day can present worker safety issues, that the interruptions that can occur during daytime pouring can lead to compromises in a building’s structural integrity, and that having trucks delivering concrete during rush hour can cause delays and have adverse effects on the concrete.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole was critical of the ordinance before Council added the grandfathering clause and other provisions, and initially suggested amending the ordinance to allow overnight pouring until 6 a.m. on public and central business district zoned properties.

“Austin already has a reputation for changing the rules midstream, and I don’t think we should do that in the face of so much evidence that it could be potentially costly or hazardous to other members of the community,” she said.

Council Member Chris Riley went in the opposite direction and proposed an amendment to limit overnight pouring hours to 10 p.m. rather than 2 a.m., but received the support of only Council Member Kathie Tovo.

Morrison, who initiated the code amendments, said that she preferred the idea of limiting overnight pouring hours to 10 p.m., but chose 2 a.m. in order to get the support of the rest of Council. “The 2 a.m. was really meant to just take a very small baby step to provide a small amount of respite,” she said.

Morrison said she was supportive of the grandfather clause, the special circumstances provision and the provision that initiates a working group process. “We want to make sure that we’re not disturbing people’s plans and jobs,” she said.

Morrison added that in April 2008 there was “no such thing as an overnight pour” and that Council adopted the ordinance that allowed overnight pouring with no public discussion of any kind.

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