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Commission powers remain unclear, residents remain agitated

Thursday, February 12, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

On Tuesday, Planning Commissioners opted to postpone an item that should clarify whether they have the ability to approve a subdivision without requiring connectivity. But the sea of bright yellow t-shirts at the meeting made it clear that the issue wasn’t going anywhere.

The shirts — and the people in them — were also on hand to fight the prolonged battle over the South Austin Lightsey 2 development. During the final twist of that case, when commissioners considered (but voted against) rescinding their vote, a part of the code that they had not been aware of was revealed.

South Lamar Neighborhood Association member and Board of Adjustment Member Bryan King expressed amazement that they had been unable to get a clear reading of that section of code since Oct. 28.

“It isn’t rocket science, it just says what it says. If City Legal wants to make more of that, they need to rewrite the code,” said King.

The part of the code in question, Section 25-4-151, reads, “Streets of a new subdivision shall be aligned with and connect to existing streets on adjoining property unless the Land Use Commission determines that the Comprehensive Plan, topography, requirements of traffic circulation, or other considerations make it desirable to depart from the alignment or connection.”

In a Dec. 8 memo, Planning and Development Review Department Director Greg Guernsey explained that the city’s Law Department had advised that “in some cases, this provision would afford the Commission discretion to approve the preliminary plan without requiring connectivity.”

However, he explained that in the Lightsey 2 case, block length requirement took precedence and prevented the newfound discretion from being exercised.

After that, Planning Commissioners requested that the item be placed on the agenda to further clarify whether or not they had discretion over connectivity in subdivisions.

Though it was on Tuesday’s agenda, staff requested that the item be postponed until the March 10 meeting of the commission. Chair Danette Chimenti allowed for the postponement, but only until the commission’s next meeting, which will be held on Feb. 24.

King spoke during the Citizens Communication portion of the meeting and telegraphed that, for him, the fight over Lightsey 2 is not over.

“You can still fix this. You only approved a preliminary plan,” said King.

“We’re still here. We’re still looking for a winning situation,” King continued. “We are still waiting for the befuddling legal interpretation of the now-infamous 24-4-151. We provided our legal interpretation. It’s pretty simple: It says just what it says.”

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