Thursday, March 26, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Adler promises to change building permit process

Speaking to a receptive audience at the Real Estate Council of Austin on Wednesday, Mayor Steve Adler said he and his colleagues intend to make sure that they fix problems in the city’s development and permitting process sooner rather than later.

In response to the highly critical Zucker Report on the city’s slow, complicated and difficult development process, Adler said he would be sponsoring a resolution asking City Manager Marc Ott to come up with a plan to eliminate the permitting backlog.

Adler said he expects city staff to come back with short-term fixes within 30 days and long-term fixes within 60 days from next week’s meeting. He said the item will be on next week’s City Council agenda. Staff will also present a briefing on the report at the meeting.

The mayor said he expects the staff to be able to come back to Council by June with a response to the report.

Adler voiced what virtually everyone in the audience already knew: “We have projects right now that take too long and cost too much.”

After the speech, Adler said he did not think it was Council’s job to tell the city manager how to fix the problem, but to make it clear that resolving the issues in the permitting process should be a very high priority.

“I think it’s the Council’s job to set some metrics to measure success and then ask the city manager to strive for those,” he said.

Adler also talked about the importance of fixing the city’s Land Development Code, the process called CodeNEXT. He said it was very important to have community-wide support in order to come up with a code that would allow the city to make more decisions administratively. He added that the city needs to make changes to simplify the development process before CodeNEXT is finished.

“The City Council should not be dealing with so many projects. … The City Council shouldn’t be spending time deciding what should be on the southwest corner of the street,” Adler said, adding that he would be working closely with Council Member Greg Casar, who is chair of the Council’s Neighborhood Planning Committee.

Asked about the decades-long war between developers and neighborhoods, Adler said he hoped the CodeNEXT process would help resolve that. He suggested that one way to deal with those battles would be to bring neighborhoods into the development process earlier.

Adler was asked whether he thought Austin should have a secondary metropolitan area like downtown, and if so, where that might be. He would support that, he said, but believed the market should decide where it would be located.

He also talked about saving Austin’s “cool.”

“I think there is a real significant risk that we can lose what makes Austin special,” Adler said in response to a question.

“There’s nothing sadder than the city that’s lost its cool,” Adler said. Part of Austin’s charm, of course, is its large number of live music venues. However, those venues have something in common with older affordable housing, which is being torn down to accommodate higher-priced residences.

The city is losing those venues because it’s impossible to pay for the increasingly expensive real estate under them with a cover charge and beer sales between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Adler said he wants the city to find a way to help save those music venues, but he did not have a plan for that.

In addition to saving the venues, Adler said one of the most important aspects of Austin’s “cool” is its environment. He stressed that it is important to remember that when planning the city’s growth.

Photo by Will Scullin, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Land Development Code: The city's Land Development Code regulates building and development in the city of Austin. As part of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the code is currently undergoing a rewrite in what is called the "CodeNEXT." That process is expected to be completed in 2016.

Real Estate Council of Austin: 501(c)6 for "more than 1,700 commercial real estate professionals representing the top leaders in the Central Texas business community." RECA is a donor to the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent of the Austin Monitor.

Zucker Report: The final analysis of the Planning and Development Review was released in May 2015. In it were numerous suggestions for the improvement of the city's planning and permitting operations, and the release of the report sparked quick changes, and led to the direct dissolution of the department into two separate departments: Planning and Zoning and Development Services.

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