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Parkland dedication fees head to Council, again

Thursday, January 28, 2016 by Vicky Garza

The Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee voted on Wednesday to push forward on a long-overdue proposal to amend the city’s Parkland Dedication Ordinance after a one-month delay.

During that time, Parks and Recreation Department staff added an additional amendment to what was presented at the Dec. 21 17 City Council meeting.

The sixth amendment clarifies Council’s authority to adopt fees-in-lieu and park development fees during the budget process, said Parks Development Coordinator Randy Scott. He said it is a clarification of the ordinance version that Council adopted at first reading at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Although the delay gave her time to address some of her concerns about certain aspects of the proposal and to discuss it with various people in the community, Council Member Leslie Pool said that it still wasn’t enough.

In fact, two members from the Bull Creek Road Coalition said that neighborhood groups had not been invited to the stakeholder meetings even though they’re impacted by the requirements, and they requested more time to review the proposal. However, there appeared to be enough of a general consensus from developers and parkland advocates on amendments to the ordinance – which has not been updated since 2007 – to continue with the process and send it to Council.

For one Parks and Recreation Board member, time was of the essence. Speaking on her own behalf and as co-chair of the Ramsey Park Renovation Committee, Alison Alter urged the committee not to postpone.

“Every month we wait is estimated to be $350,000 and 10 acres of parkland that would be added to our system each and every month based on the average of what we’ve seen in the past,” Alter said.

She added that those numbers come from the parks department and clarified that the $350,000 is the amount in fees from developers the city would be receiving.

Developers are also OK with the fee increase. “The group of stakeholders that asked me to speak for them can support the significant increase in fees and the parkland dedication requirement,” said attorney Jeff Howard, a former Real Estate Council of Austin chair.

Howard said that the coalition of organizations he represents – which includes the Austin Apartment Association, AURA, the Downtown Austin Alliance, Home Builders Association of Greater Austin and RECA – came to this consensus after meeting with parks advocates and then discussing how to implement the changes with Parks and Recreation Department staff.

He added that the coalition would like to see dedicated parkland included in the site area calculations of a project, which would encourage a developer to dedicate parkland without sacrificing any density or housing.

AURA’s Eric Goff expressed his support of the ordinance, calling it a good compromise.

Francoise Luca, president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association and a park board member, said that while she is “in favor of the ordinance as a first step and as a foundation for all of our planners and developers to design a safe, healthy, pleasant and fun urban space,” she is concerned about how the ordinance will be applied. She said it should be applied equally, regardless of who the landowner or developer is.

Council Member Don Zimmerman expressed concerns about affordability and the cost of the changes for renters and homebuyers. “I’m going to say that the developers are going to pass these fees on to whoever buys and rents,” said Zimmerman.

“My understanding is that it is not, in fact, passed along,” said Pool. “That is something that we will agree to disagree on.”

“Is the proposal perfect? Absolutely not,” said Pool, who said she still has concerns about parts of it. “But it is also clear to me that on the whole, this proposal moves the ball forward.”

She added, “I don’t believe this is the end of the conversation. I believe there is still much work left to be done. Tomorrow, I will ask for PARD to report back on the impact of these changes – whichever ones are adopted – in six months, and again in a year.”

Just before the vote, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo added an amendment removing wording regarding Imagine Austin because it was “not appropriate.”

The ordinance passed as amended in a vote of 3-0-1, with Tovo, Pool and Council Member Delia Garza in favor and Zimmerman abstaining. Council will consider the new dedication fees again today.

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

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