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Planning commissioners explore development options for East Austin

Thursday, August 27, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Will there be a development moratorium on the east side? Probably not, but the Planning Commission is taking a closer look at its options for slowing development in the East Cesar Chavez corridor.

Commissioners examined the tools available for dealing with the extreme development pressures currently facing the corridor at their most recent meeting Tuesday. Neighborhood advocates have called for a moratorium on all permits for hotels, cocktail lounges, breweries, sound amplification and late night hours in the corridor, which runs from I-35 to U.S. Highway 183.

“It strikes me the better tool to use here is the interim development regulations, basically putting an overlay along Cesar Chavez saying, ‘For a certain time, no bars, restaurants, whatever,’” said Commissioner Tom Nuckols.

The idea will now make its way through some Planning Commission committees for further scrutiny, starting with the Small Area Planning Joint Committee.

Daniel Llanes, as a member of the River Bluff Neighborhood Association, is part of the group calling for a moratorium.

“We’re so happy that you all responded so well. This is incredible, actually,” said Llanes. “Thank you so much for the possibility of relief. … We do not want our neighborhoods to turn into an entertainment district.”

Llanes asked the commissioners to consider including a prohibition of Type 2 and 3 short-term rentals in committee.

During the meeting, Assistant City Attorney Patricia Link spoke to the Planning Commission about what, exactly, a moratorium would look like.

A moratorium would stop all permitting and development for a period of time and apply to both commercial and residential development. Link explained that, under state law, moratoriums can be justified by a shortage of public facilities, like water or street infrastructure.

More relevant is the state law that allows for a development moratorium “because new commercial development will be detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare of residents, because existing regulations are inadequate to prevent harm to the public,” said Link.

If a moratorium is adopted based on public health, safety and welfare of residents, even an officially approved moratorium will expire 90 days after it is adopted, though it can be extended to a maximum of 180 days. Once a moratorium expires, another granted for the same reasons cannot be reinstituted until after a two-year waiting period.

Even under a moratorium, people have the right to apply for a waiver. Additionally, a moratorium would not apply to vested rights or to projects already in progress.

On the other hand, interim development regulations are a tool used more frequently by the city. It is this option that will likely be explored further by the commission. Interim development regulations allow permitting and development to move forward – but under different regulations – while new development standards are being crafted.

Zilker Neighborhood resident David King pointed out that the speed of development was causing problems in many parts of the city. He noted the possibility that the process could be used as a “template” for the future, and for other areas of Austin.

Cesar Chavez Mural – East Side” by EverdayzacOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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