Friday, July 10, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

New parkland dedication fee would “maintain” park-to-person ratio

With recent unanimous approval from members of the city’s Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Department says it might soon be able to recalibrate the fee it charges residential developers in lieu of making parkland available.

Developers unwilling or unable to put aside park acres in proportion to the amount of land on which they are building have to pay a $650-per-unit flat fee known as the parkland dedication fee. The price was set by the city in 1985 2007, and it has since fallen below the typical fees charged by numerous other cities, including Houston, San Diego and Portland, Oregon.

Instead, what went before the Planning Commission was a new three-tiered fee, with a price range dependent upon the density of the area in which a developer is building. For example, a low-density area takes into account that while people live farther apart, most likely in homes, there are more residents per housing unit. (The city considers a low-density area to house an average of 2.8 people per unit, while a high-density area houses 1.7 people per unit.)

That density number is then multiplied by two figures: the cost of the land per person, and a per-person cost to construct the park upon the land. Added together, the two resulting costs compose the parkland dedication fee. (A low-density area fee comes out to $1,551 per unit, while a high-density area would cost a developer $943 per unit.) When paid by developers in lieu of setting aside actual acreage, those funds go into the city’s Parkland Dedication Fund, where they are put aside to build a park within 2 miles of the development.

Marilyn Lamensdorf, senior planner with the Parks and Recreation Department, stressed that the city developed these equations in order to maintain the current level of parkland: 9.4 acres per 1,000 residents. (This number excludes the acreage of large parks, such as Zilker Park.) Prior to this, the assumed ratio was 5 acres per 1,000 residents set in 1985 – a number, Lamensdorf said, the city quickly exceeded.

“None of us were here (at that time) to know how it was calculated,” Lamensdorf told the Austin Monitor. “However they calculated it, it doesn’t relate to what we have now.”

In the past, the city’s relatively low fee made it difficult to erect parks soon after developers completed their projects. “At the $650 price, sometimes we had to wait awhile to build something,” Lamensdorf told the Monitor.

Commissioners at last month’s meeting approved the item with little discussion. Commissioner James Nortey moved to approve it, and Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez attached an amendment asking the city to look into requiring parkland dedication, or the in-lieu fee, from commercial developers.

City Council will most likely take the final vote on this amended fee in September, after setting a public hearing at its first meeting in August.

Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

This story has been corrected.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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