Monday, December 5, 2016 by Joseph Caterine

Slow response to flood report frustrates some commissioners

The city does not have many options for supporting individuals who suffer loss or damages from flooding caused by a development upstream, based on an exchange at the Nov. 29 joint meeting of the Planning and the Zoning and Platting commissions.

After a presentation on the Land Use Review Process by the Development Services Department staff, led by Donna Galati, Planning Commissioner Betsy Greenberg asked what happens if the drainage reviewers clear a development that after the fact causes flooding in neighboring areas. “What is the city’s responsibility?” she asked.

“We rely a lot on the engineer that designed the project,” said Leslie Daniel, a water quality reviewer at Development Services. “But we do watch for it.”

Andrew Linseisen, the department’s managing engineer, said that the Watershed Protection Department investigates if residents complain about flooding from a development, but that the ultimate responsibility lies with the developer and its engineer.

Zoning and Platting Commissioner Ana Aguirre, who also served on the city’s Flood Mitigation Task Force, was frustrated that the department had not considered the recommendations in that group’s final report.

“In my opinion,” she told the Austin Monitor, “some city departments work in silos and don’t talk to each other. If you’re a victim of this kind of flooding, it seems like you have to get your own attorney and your own engineer to challenge the original engineer.”

Linseisen said at the meeting that he knows Aguirre was disappointed with Development Services’ response but reiterated that as a department, they must stick to city code, and that Watershed Protection would be responsible for implementing any of the changes recommended by the task force.

As Cate Malek recently reported, the city’s Environmental Commission has expressed similar concerns. It has proposed the creation of a Drainage Infrastructure and Flood Mitigation Committee “that would work to create a more sustained and long-term response to major floods.”

Though the idea has “strong support” at the city, the committee has not yet been approved by City Council.

Photo by Matt Roberts made available through a Creative Commons license

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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.

Development Services Department: A city department that reviews development and inspection services.

Watershed Protection Department: The city's Watershed Protection Department works to reduce the impact of floods, erosion and water pollution in the city. The department is mostly funded by the city's drainage fee.

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