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Confusion reigns over Zoning and Platting Commission’s duties

Friday, September 4, 2015 by Jack Craver

The Zoning and Platting Commission’s attempts to work more closely with the Planning Commission continue to encounter confusion and pushback from commissioners, city staff and City Council.

For starters, Chair Gabriel Rojas is still smarting over Council’s decision last month to abolish the Economic and Capital Budget Joint Committee, one of the two joint committees that the Zoning and Platting Commission had been invited to partake in based on recommendations last year by the Boards and Commissions Transition Task Force. That joint committee would have included four members of the Planning Commission, three members of the Zoning and Platting Commission and four Council appointees.

The Council approved replacing the committee with the version that had existed under the previous Council system – the Bond Oversight Committee – after some Council members voiced concerns that not every Council district would be represented on the committee. The current incarnation will thus not include appointees from the land-use commissions.

Rojas said the decision was made without seeking any input from the Zoning and Platting Commission.

“I sent Council a very strongly worded email in response,” he told the Austin Monitor on Thursday. From his perspective, a committee focusing on bonds would benefit from land-use commissioners, who deal regularly with city infrastructure.

In addition, some new bylaws drafted by the Zoning and Platting Commission aimed at creating joint committees with the Planning Commission were rebuffed by city attorney Brent Lloyd at a Tuesday meeting. Lloyd said the commission’s proposal to establish a committee dealing with codes and ordinances would mean that members of the Zoning and Platting Commission would be participating in decisions outside the purview of their commission.

“You do not presently under code have authority to initiate land development code amendments,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd appeared to be under the impression that the commission was trying to set up a “parallel” committee to the Planning Commission’s existing Committee on Codes and Ordinances. Rojas interjected, clarifying that every proposed new committee from the Zoning and Platting Commission was intended to be a joint venture with the Planning Commission.

“I think the genesis for doing this was that we’ve only had one half of the city’s voice on Codes and Ordinances,” said Rojas. “That’s why the Boards and Commissions Task Force recommended (joint committees).

“What we’re saying is, ‘Here’s our joint committee proposal – share your authority with us so we have a bigger picture of the city,’” he continued.

Vice Chair Jackie Goodman, a former member of Council who played a key role in creating the Zoning and Platting Commission 15 years ago, was also disgruntled by the suggestion that the commission did not have the ability to draft code amendments. That was news to her.

“At the time of creation of this commission, there was no difference between Zoning and Platting and the Planning Commission in purview,” Goodman said. “So when did this all come up?”

“I think the distinctions I’m making have been present since this commission was established,” responded Lloyd.

“Well, I challenge your position, and I’ll be working on that,” said Goodman. “That was not the intent of the original ordinance on this commission.”

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