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Commission powers to be revealed at next meeting

Thursday, February 26, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Although many left thinking they may never know whether Planning Commissioners can approve subdivisions without requiring connectivity, an 11th-hour save means the issue will be discussed, again, at the commission’s next meeting.

Much to the disappointment of those who have doggedly pursued the issue, Planning Commissioners discussed the section of code and its interpretation in closed session at their Tuesday meeting.

During more than an hour of executive session, commissioners discussed city legal’s interpretation of Section 25-4-151. When they returned, Chair Danette Chimenti told those in attendance that they would not discuss it any further that night. At the time, Chimenti said they would take up the issue during a Codes and Ordinances committee meeting and that the Planning Commission would take a final position if another case involving the issue came before them.

However, during the late, last portion of the meeting, Commissioner Brian Roark asked that it be placed back on the agenda for an open discussion. After some deliberating, the commission decided to put it on its March 10 agenda.

“Generally, the citizens have a right to know what city legal thinks about their own development code, and how they would interpret it,” said Roark.

“There have been plenty of folks that have been asking for that. More so the public than us,” Roark continued. “I would like something on the next agenda where we reveal that, or at least talk about revealing that to the public, and are able to discuss what our beliefs are about the merits of that opinion.”

Commissioner James Nortey said he would rather hold the discussion during a Codes and Ordinances committee meeting.

“Personally, I think this is the forum,” said Roark. “We asked city legal what they think about the code section, and they come and tell us, and the public has no idea what that is. I think this is the perfect forum.

“I think it ought to be televised, I think the city ought to have to defend the way that a certain section reads [in] a way that they claim it does, and I think we ought to have the opportunity to discuss that as well,” he continued. “And we haven’t been given that opportunity.”

Roark also pointed out that Austinites have for months sought clarification on this part of the code. He questioned the transparency involved in getting the code interpretation behind closed doors.

“It doesn’t make much sense,” said Roark. “I think we ought to get it out there — trot that horse out there and let us talk about it.”

Ex officio member Howard Lazarus, who is the director of Public Works, warned that the commission should “be very careful not to let this degrade into a discussion of a site plan that is not on the agenda.”

To that end, Lazarus suggested that they frame the agenda item as a way to clarify the ambiguity that currently exists in the code. Though he refrained from calling out anyone in particular, Lazarus was clearly speaking about South Austin residents who are opposed to the Lightsey II development, who have shown up for months hoping to get an answer about that section of code.

“I would just offer the caution, given who will most likely be in attendance, that it’s going to be a challenge for the chair here to make sure that the conversation stays focused,” said Lazarus.

 

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