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Austin could change the way it issues demolition permits

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 by Syeda Hasan

As the number of demolitions soars in Austin, the city is considering changing the way it issues permits to make sure teardowns are done safely and people affected are properly notified.

Since 2010, the number of demolition permits issued in Austin has gone up an average of 13 percent each year. In the midst of rapid redevelopment, though, the city has gotten some pushback.

One of the most contentious demolitions took place in 2015. The Jumpolin piñata store in East Austin was torn down with its stock of party supplies still inside. Store owners said they got no notice of the impending teardown, though the property owner disputed that. The confusion around proper notification is one of the issues highlighted in a report the Office of the City Auditor released last year.

“The process wasn’t really efficient to making sure that demolitions were done safely and that people were notified,” Assistant City Auditor Andrew Keegan said.

The report concluded the process is inefficient for the city and doesn’t meet the needs of people who have a stake in demolitions. The auditor’s office also found the process doesn’t do enough to mitigate safety risks brought on by hazardous materials like asbestos. Keegan said the patchwork of state and local regulations don’t always match up to ensure a safe process.

“There is a state requirement that certain structures be tested for asbestos before demolitions,” Keegan said, “and the city kind of piggybacked, for lack of a better word, on that process, so there was really nothing in the city’s process to verify that the state requirements were actually met.”

The city’s effort to draft a new demolition-permitting process stems from a resolution approved by City Council last year. Council members say the revised process should include appropriate reviews and safety measures, as well as adequate notice to anyone who might be affected.

“What should the application requirements be?” Daniel Word with the Development Services Department said. “How long should the process take? We’re really looking at doing a whole rework of how we process demolitions currently.”

The city is hosting the first of a series of public meetings to get feedback on the process from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo: Monica Lejarazu (right), owner of Jumpolin, and neighbor Diane Ontiberos look on as a fence is erected around the remains of the piñata store, after it was demolished, in February 2015. Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News.

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