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Wednesday, September 9, 2015 by Jack Craver
When is it OK to postpone a project?
When should a project be postponed?
While some commissioners believe projects that are in line with code should be approved quickly, others believe that no project should be OK’d without first hearing from those opposed to it.
A debate over a proposed resubdivision on Harbor Village Trail during a Sept. 1 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission displayed the different approaches that commissioners take on the issue.
Carl Conley, the agent for the developer, urged commissioners to approve the project, noting that it was recommended by staff and that further delays were costly to his client, property owner James Moore.
Don Perryman of the Planning and Development Review Department informed the panel that he was requesting a postponement on behalf of neighbors who were opposed to the project.
“We’ve been confronted with some issues that are involving some discussions with our legal department,” he explained. “We really want to be very confident when we come up here and make a recommendation on this case, and we’re not there tonight.”
But when pressed by commissioners to identify potential problems with the project, Perryman and assistant city attorney Brent Lloyd conceded that there was unlikely anything that would get staff to reverse its decision to recommend the project. Staff, he explained, had told neighbors opposed to the project that it would request the postponement the day before, in the midst of newly raised legal questions about the property ownership. However, in the following 24 hours, those questions had been answered to the satisfaction of city attorneys.
“As of yesterday, we had some serious concerns,” said Lloyd. “But I think our concerns are largely satisfied.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Commissioner Susan Harris, a veteran of the real estate industry. “The issues that you had yesterday – you’re largely satisfied that they don’t present an issue for the city any longer, and yet you want us to postpone this again … to satisfy the adjoining landowner who has no standing in this case?”
Staff was still requesting the postponement, he explained, because the neighbors opposed to the project were absent, likely because their recent conversations with city staff had led them to believe the project would be delayed.
“In the event the opposition did present themselves,” continued Harris, “would that in any way change the statutory compliance of this plat?”
“No ma’am,” responded Perryman.
“In which case we would be compelled to approve it?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Perryman.
Harris, while emphasizing that she preferred to support staff recommendations, said she couldn’t understand why postponing the project for two weeks helped anybody if the commission was obligated ultimately to approve it. She thus motioned to reject the postponement and proceed to hear the case. The motion carried 6-3, with Commissioners Louisa Brinsmade, Jolene Kiolbassa and Bruce Evans dissenting.
“The reason that I voted to postpone is because this is a public forum, and this is the ability for all parties to come and be heard,” Brinsmade explained afterward. “And staff had led (the neighbors) to believe that there would be a postponement.”
Kiolbassa also expressed regret that the project would be approved without the awareness of the opposing neighbors.
“I would have liked to have supported Mr. Perryman in making his word to the neighbors he had met with,” she said. “So I’m a little troubled that we’re making a decision without these people having been heard.”
Evans, a real estate veteran, said he was bothered by a sense that the commission had “flip-flopped” by denying the postponement after granting one for the previous item.
Chair Gabriel Rojas defended the decision to reject the postponement, saying that the project had already been postponed twice and that the commission was legally obligated to approve.
“I always feel so bad – I see people come down here with very good intent, wanting to change stuff, but with these, our hands our tied,” Rojas said. “To push it off another two weeks, we wouldn’t have been able to take (opposition) into account much.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.