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Concrete pouring ordinance may need more time

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City staff’s proposed restrictions on notoriously loud and bright overnight concrete pouring at downtown sites may not be ready to hit the ground yet. That’s according to a discussion City Council had at its Tuesday work session ahead of a vote on the issue Thursday.

“There was a lot of conflicting information,” said Council Member Sheri Gallo regarding the process leading up to the proposal. She sits on the Council Planning and Neighborhoods Committee, which took up the issue on June 9 but did not make a recommendation.

Rather than adopt the ordinance, Gallo suggested Council consider extending the current interim ordinance that the previous Council passed in November until Council, staff and stakeholders are satisfied that the proposed new ordinance is fair and enforceable.

Since Council passed the original ordinance, staff has convened a stakeholder group on the issue consisting of concrete contractors, residents and others.

The group has met four times and has not been able to come to a consensus on a solution that addresses issues related to worker safety, congestion and the concrete-pouring process that arise as a result of daytime pours and the sound and light pollution that are associated with nighttime pours.

Planning and Zoning Department Director Greg Guernsey noted that staff has put forward both the proposed ordinance and the interim ordinance as options for Council consideration on Thursday.

The temporary ordinance is set to expire on June 30; the extension would last until Sept. 30.

Guernsey added that he may have more information to report before Thursday, as his staff plans to meet today with concrete-contractor representatives and staff from the Economic Development Department’s Music and Entertainment Division as well as the Development Services Department for comments on the proposal.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who also sits on the committee, said staff has presented Council with “useful” recommendations that fall short of her goals. “They do not go as far as I believe they should in protecting the residents from the real noise and disruption elements of concrete pours,” she said.

Tovo said she would be bringing forward amendments Thursday that are “more consistent with the recommendations of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, but that will also provide … a process where if there’s a situation where a concrete pour cannot stop, they have the ability to get a variance or waiver.”

Council Member Don Zimmerman argued that Council should consider how restrictions might impact concrete-pouring workers if they force or encourage contractors to schedule hot concrete pours in the summer daytime hours. “It’s a serious job, and I think there are health risks in demanding that people do this in the hot summer sun,” he said.

The interim ordinance limits off-peak pouring hours to between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. in areas that are within 600 feet of a residence, church, hospital, hotel or motel or are within the Downtown Density Bonus Program area and are zoned Central Business District or Public.

The ordinance also allows staff to issue permits until 6 a.m. under “special circumstances of limited duration,” sets forth sound and light mitigation plan requirements for applicants and includes a grandfathering clause for permits issued before the regulations went into effect in December. That clause does not apply to sound and light mitigation plan requirements.

The Downtown Density Bonus Program area falls between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Lady Bird Lake, IH 35 and Lamar Boulevard.

The proposed ordinance would apply to the same area with the same time restrictions, though it would set additional sound restrictions based on the decibel level measured from the applicant’s property line to ensure that nearby residents are able to sleep.

The ordinance would set the maximum at 75 decibels starting at 7 p.m. every day of the week and ending at 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 p.m. on Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. After those times on their respective days, the maximum would drop to 65 decibels until 6 a.m., when peak regulations go into effect.

In order to enforce the ordinance, Development Services and Planning and Zoning staff would work with Music and Entertainment staff.

According to backup documents, if the ordinance passes staff will propose one new position, $30,000 for sound-monitoring equipment and a new “late night concrete pour sound impact plan review fee” for applicants to offset the additional costs as part of the upcoming Economic Development budget.

The proposed ordinance would also require applicants to notify nearby residents of planned pouring using various procedures, provide a 24-hour contact number for nearby residents to call and continue to develop sound impact and light mitigation plans.

The permits would have a maximum length of 72 hours, which is consistent with current policy, and the grandfathering clause would remain.

Guernsey said the main issue that might cause postponement is the need to consult contractors and builders “to make sure that they’re comfortable with the amendments that staff put in toward the end, which were the maximum limits on the decibels for those certain hours.”

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