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Zoning and Platting Commission discusses validity of previous vote

Thursday, February 7, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

At the last meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission on Jan. 29, even with a full dais the commission was unable to muster the supermajority vote needed to approve a request for a flag lot at 11603 Tedford St.

Dissatisfied with the decision due to what Commissioner Bruce Evans called an “inability to articulate” which criteria were not met for a variance approval, he reposted the item to rescind the prior vote.

According to code, the four qualifications the commissioners may cite to deny a variance request include: providing accessibility for emergency responders; containing adequate room for required utilities; enhancing environmental and tree protection; and being otherwise compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

As Evans told the Austin Monitor, “My personal opinion is the commission’s decision should have been based purely on staff making their recommendation based on meeting the criteria for variance as stated in the code and staff had given that assurance.” He clarified that it would be difficult for any commissioner to give an adequate reason as to why the variance did not meet the standards that staff determined it did. “It’s my belief that none of us are expert enough in any of the fields to make our own determination,” he said.

At the Feb. 5 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission, he said, “I also believe that when we took action it was incorrect. But that is my personal opinion.”

Prior to the meeting, he reached out to several attorneys as well as city legal for their interpretation of the issue.

At the meeting this past Tuesday, Chair Jolene Kiolbassa expressed her views on the interpretation review completed by city legal. “I saw what I thought was a really nice memo from Lee Simmons and it answered anything that Commissioner Evans had raised,” she said. “I just don’t see the issue on this.”

Commissioner Betsy Greenberg, who will be replaced later this month, said, “We heard the case, we made a decision. Let’s move on.”

This discussion on the code interpretation opened Pandora’s box. Once the question of articulate reasoning for denial was broached, Commissioner Ann Denkler pointed out that if the commission’s previous vote was overturned, the item would have to be reposted, re-presented and then voted on again. However, in order to revote on a case, “one had to have new info that warranted the change of a vote and that you have to have a two-thirds vote to do so,” said Denkler.

Greenberg expressed her concern with the stipulation that to rescind the commission’s earlier vote there must be new evidence. “You’re not telling us any new information,” she said.

Nevertheless, Evans insisted that the issue at hand was a question of code violation and that if their vote violated code, the case should be presented again.

The commission disagreed. “It just seemed like a slippery slope,” said Kiolbassa. “If we want to improve our rules and regulations, that should be an agenda item.”

The commission took a vote to postpone but the motion failed. As they were unable to get a majority no matter how persuasive any side was, the agenda item was withdrawn.

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