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PUD rules change ambles on

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A bid to change the way the city approves Planned Unit Developments is moving forward, sort of, but it appears that no changes will be made in haste.

On Thursday, City Council passed a diluted version of Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo’s resolution that would impose restrictions on those seeking PUD zoning on unzoned land. The restriction, which requires a supermajority approval by Council when PUD zoning is not recommended by a land-use commission, already exists for previously zoned tracts.

Mayor Steve Adler explained that, while he agreed with the idea of having a discussion about the topic, he had an alternative to Tovo’s proposal. He handed out what he called “a draft resolution that basically would move us forward without expressing an intent to do anything.”

It is that resolution that passed, unanimously.

Notably, Adler’s proposal replaced Tovo’s initiation of a code amendment with a more general direction for the city manager. Council voted to initiate a study and propose potential code amendments concerning unzoned property in which PUD zoning is sought.

Though Tovo pushed for a more specific code amendment, following an executive session she said that she was comfortable with Adler’s changes after making sure that the intent was to move forward with a code amendment, albeit a less-defined one.

Adler affirmed that he believed that to be true, saying, “What has happened here is staff is not being given the direction to initiate an amendment to include any particular provision.” He also said that he saw the item as “part of a much larger question.”

“We have a lot of unzoned land coming in the city,” Adler said. “We have the desire to put ourselves in the best position, vis-à-vis the state, vis-à-vis the people who might be purchasing that property. Lots of related policy issues. We’re asking staff to take a look at that issue, work with the Planning Commission and come back to the Council committee with an initiated and proposed ordinance for the Planning Commission to work through and eventually to get to a council right after that.”

Adler explained that, to him, the resolution touched on a “broad and real important topic” for Council – how to handle unzoned state land within the city. That land, said Adler, represents an opportunity for parkland and “perhaps (the city’s) best opportunity to get urban and geographic dispersion of affordable housing.”

Though most of the land in the city is zoned, there are some exceptions. Most notable currently is the 75-acre tract of land at 45th Street and Bull Creek Road previously owned by the state. Now that it’s privately owned, developers are seeking PUD zoning for the Grove at Shoal Creek PUD.

It remains unclear how any code amendments would impact the development, which has just begun the public rezoning process. ARG Bull Creek Ltd., the owners of the Grove at Shoal Creek, issued a statement to the Austin Monitor following Council’s decision last week.

“While we understand the interests being advanced, we are concerned about the legal authority for the proposed amendment under state law, which distinguishes initial zonings from re-zonings for good policy reasons. We are also concerned about applying a new code amendment to our project which is already in process and nearing a point of commission and council consideration. Nevertheless, we intend to review the adopted resolution and any proposed code amendment that could follow further,” the statement said.

“In the meantime, we look forward to continuing our work with the City and stakeholders on this important project that will advance the goals of Imagine Austin by promoting a compact and connected city, increasing housing supply and diversity, providing substantial affordable housing in Central West Austin, and dedicating new, large and fully-funded public park space to this part of the City,” it continued.

According to the resolution approved by Council, the Planning and Neighborhood Committee will consider recommendations on the topic at its December meeting.

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