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Real Estate Council seeks commissioner’s apology

Thursday, March 9, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Nick Moulinet, board chair of the Real Estate Council of Austin, was extremely concerned when he heard about some anti-growth comments made by Urban Transportation Commissioner Kelly Davis during a January discussion of a small change to the city’s transportation plan approval process.

As a result, Moulinet took the unusual step of asking City Council Member Leslie Pool, who appointed Davis, to ask the commissioner for a formal written apology or for Pool to remove her from the commission.

Pool did not agree and told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday, “We still have First Amendment rights in this country, and Kelly was expressing the opinion of a significant portion of the city with regard to how fast we are growing. And I’m not unsympathetic – and I don’t think the Council is unsympathetic. We are all working as hard as we can to come up with solutions and it takes time. I want to do it right.”

According to a survey conducted by Baselice & Associates Inc. in December 2016, 31 percent of Austinites “think we need to stop or slow down growth so we don’t have to pay for more transportation, energy, and water infrastructure.” That poll indicated that 60 percent of Austin residents believe that “we need to plan for more growth and that includes paying for” the infrastructure to handle that growth.

The commission discussion related to changing one word in the code that required city staff to take a transportation-related item to the Planning Commission twice, instead of once. That proposal simply changed the word shall to may, allowing staff to skip what appeared to be a redundant step in the process.

Davis opposed moving forward with the change before further study and stated that she was “in favor of anything that slows down or stops Austin’s massive growth and gentrification.”

The commission approved the change, with only Davis voting no, and Council approved it last Thursday along with several other changes. Moulinet, who works at Stantec, was still so offended that he wrote the letter.

Moulinet said, “The part that bothers me is that I represent 2,000 members and this is our livelihood. … What we do depends on smart growth, and there is nothing we can do, nor should we, to close the doors to our city. … If every matter that comes before her she is predisposed to say no (to), we as an organization have a problem with that.”

Davis told the Monitor she was surprised by Moulinet’s reaction. “I felt like I was just making a case for postponement for the proposed change,” she said. “I was only asking for a month so the commissioners could look at the ordinance that they were asking to be amended. I also just feel that I was echoing the sentiments of a lot of people in Austin to manage growth more deliberately because we don’t have to put every development on a fast track.”

In addition, Davis objected to the staff’s contention that if they did not bring the change to Council right away, they would not be able to do so for the next year because of CodeNEXT. “We can’t let CodeNEXT hold us hostage for a year and dictate how and when we make decisions,” she said.

Photo by John Flynn. 

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