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Council OKs contract for impact fee study

Friday, June 10, 2016 by Jo Clifton

With City Council Member Don Zimmerman opposed, Council voted 7-1 Thursday to award a $1.18 million contract for a transportation impact fee study to Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. in anticipation of adopting developer impact fees to pay for street improvements as the city grows.

Council members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen along with Mayor Steve Adler were in Washington, D.C., on other city business.

Gordon Derr, assistant director of the Transportation Department, explained that the city has already placed a cap on the impact fee amount to be charged to developers for road improvements. Now, the city must perform a study to determine what the impact fees should be to comply with state law.

Zimmerman noted his own engineering background before saying, “There is a public perception that the city of Austin spends too much money on studies.” He then added that “whoever pays for the study has a tremendous influence over framing the issues and in getting a certain result back from your consultant.”

Zimmerman went on to suggest that rather than hiring an outside consultant, the city should use its own in-house engineers to carry out the study. He was apparently alone in his objections.

Council Member Leslie Pool had numerous questions but declared herself satisfied with staff’s answers.

The contract awarded Thursday is not to be confused with the Kimley-Horn contracts through the consultant Opticos Design for the rewrite of the city’s land-use regulations, a project known as CodeNEXT, nor with the Opticos/Kimley-Horn contract scheduled to come to Council later this month.

As the Austin Monitor reported Wednesday, the chair of the citizens group that has been advising the city on CodeNEXT expressed concerns that the contract for the project is being used as a “mothership on which to attach riders for other studies or plans.”

Jim Duncan, former director of planning for the city and an expert on transportation impact fees, complained in an email that a February amendment to the CodeNEXT contract with Opticos and Kimley-Horn was not for rewriting the code. Instead, the contract is for a citywide transportation plan.

However, it turns out that Kimley-Horn is part of the Opticos team and has been since 2013, when Opticos signed its first contract with the city’s Planning and Zoning Department for $2 million, according to CodeNEXT project manager Jim Robertson.

In November 2014, Council appropriated an additional $591,000 and last year another $825,000, for a total of $3,416,000, for CodeNEXT.

Robertson said he is anticipating bringing an additional amendment to Council of at least $500,000 for Opticos this summer. He noted that Opticos has been working on the code out of the public eye for several months and that the company is coming close to the end of the funds currently designated for the project.

Annick Beaudet, who is the systems development division manager in the Transportation Department, told the Monitor that Council has also appropriated just under $1 million for the transportation part of the Opticos CodeNEXT contract.

The impact fee work that Kimley-Horn will conduct under the contract awarded Thursday has no relationship to CodeNEXT, Beaudet said, but the company can use the work it did for CodeNEXT to help prepare the impact fee plan.

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