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The nitty-gritty of a Pilot Knob reconsideration

Thursday, March 3, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

City Council members will decide today whether to revisit an affordable housing deal approved by vote in December. And how they might re-table the deal is a bit mystifying.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair is proposing an amendment that would initiate a second look at the deal. (Council members Leslie Pool, Ora Houston and Don Zimmerman are co-sponsors on this item.)

“I for one just wanted the opportunity, from a procedural standpoint, to be able to cast my vote with all of the information – which the vast majority of the Council clearly did not have the ability to do because we did not have access to that information,” said Troxclair.

But according to the laws that govern the body, Council members can only reconsider a vote as late as a day after that first vote was taken. So, should Troxclair’s amendment pass, the city would open an entirely new zoning case on the item – meaning Pilot Knob would head back to boards and commissions.

Mayor Steve Adler said, should the Council vote for a second look, he’s OK with it.

“It’s not going to hold anything up,” he said. “The developer and the project can proceed, which is important. Because it’s already breaking ground out there, and it’s going to be putting up homes – that is going to provide permanent affordability in the city, and that’s what we need.”

Usually, zoning has little effect over where funds from a housing deal would be routed within the city. But Pilot Knob is a planned unit development. In the simplest terms, this means it is a build-your-own housing plan – and so reconsidering any part of it means reinitiating the zoning process.

“It’s a blank piece of paper,” said Jerry Rusthoven, with the city’s Planning and Zoning Department. “What it really does is allow you to modify the land development code. So, tweak it to be what you need on your property, and your property only. But in exchange for that, the city gets superior development to what we can normally get.”

A new zoning case also potentially opens Council up to a petition from the developer. Should the deal be tweaked, when it gets to the full Council, the developer has the right to object. In that case, the deal would pass only with a supermajority vote – that is, nine votes.

Pilot Knob would move anywhere from $50 million to $80 million normally slotted for Austin Water’s and the Development Services Department’s coffers and put it into the city’s affordable housing trust fund. However, that financial information, many Council members have said, was not available to them at the December vote.

As a result, local civil activist Brian Rodgers has filed a lawsuit against the city saying it violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by failing to include these financial details in Council’s backup materials at the time of voting. Rodgers has offered to settle that suit. His offer, however, expires on March 22 and there are no Council meetings currently scheduled before that date.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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