Tuesday, June 20, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Garage placement tool ignites political blowback from Bouldin Creek

Light shone through the cracks in the contact team model for neighborhood planning during deliberation over a neighborhood plan amendment at the most recent meeting of the Planning Commission.

The Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2002, includes voluntary design guidelines for the area, one of which is to minimize the use of the garage as a distinct structure from the homestead as a way of maintaining neighborhood character. The garage placement tool was adopted by City Council the following year as an option for neighborhood plans that would require garages to not be closer to the street than the principal structure and to not stick out too far from the side.

After presentations about the tool at the regular meetings of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association in April and June 2016, the association voted to recommend it as an amendment to the contact team, which voted to approve the adoption during its February meeting.

Despite extensive outreach efforts including the delivery of 835 emails through a listserv and 1,600 newsletters, neighborhood association President Cory Walton said that it was not until the city mailed its notices in March ahead of the commission meeting that people voiced opposition to the amendment.

“Among those who sent letters of objection, I would say three to four are regular attendees of general association meetings,” he said. “Many of (those in opposition) have not subscribed to the listserv or choose not to read the newsletter.”

Out of the emails and comment forms received by staff, there were 14 in support and 37 in opposition.

David Smith, a resident speaking in opposition at the meeting, said that the neighborhood association and contact team model was flawed. “Up until now the (neighborhood association) did no harm,” he said, “but now (it’s a problem because) they are the (only) mechanism that we have to represent ourselves in the CodeNEXT process.”

Although the opposition comments outweighed those in support, it still amounted to a tiny percentage of those in the planning area (around 3,200 households), said Commissioner Trinity White. Taking that into account, she said that it was the neighborhood contact team’s prerogative to act in line with the objectives of the neighborhood plan, which did engage a larger portion of the residents in its drafting process.

Commissioner Karen McGraw, who made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation, added that the neighborhood had missed out on other tools to resist infill. “I think the best thing now would be to implement this tool,” she said. “I do not think it’s a hardship.”

Commissioner Tom Nuckols commented that if the tool was adopted, unhappy residents could always seek redress from the Board of Adjustment. “Oddly shaped lots and trees are two of the most common bases for the Board of Adjustment granting variances,” he said.

Making a substitute motion to deny, Commissioner Greg Anderson said that with CodeNEXT around the corner, the plan amendment unnecessarily complicated matters, especially considering that the CodeNEXT draft currently has its own garage placement tool. Commissioner James Schissler seconded.

The motion to deny failed 5-6, with Commissioner James Shieh abstaining. The original motion to approve passed 7-5, with Anderson, Schissler, and commissioners Jeffrey Thompson, Chito Vela and Fayez Kazi dissenting. Commissioner Angela De Hoyos Hart was absent.

Photo of garage not allowed under garage placement rules from Bouldin NA presentation.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association: Covers the area, roughly, south of Lady Bird Lake, north of Oltorf Street, west of South Congress Avenue and east of South Lamar Boulevard.

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.

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