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Austin Humane Society moves forward with 15-year expansion plan

Monday, December 2, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

The Austin Humane Society has been in its current facilities for 25 years. However, as Austin continues to grow, the shelter finds itself in need of an expansion to accommodate its own increasing populations.

“We’ve outgrown our space,” said Frances Jonon, CEO of the Austin Humane Society, at the Nov. 26 meeting of the Planning Commission. “We hope that as Austin grows, we’ll have the flexibility to continue to grow.”

Currently, the Humane Society plans to expand to a 5.2-acre location at 837 E. Anderson Service Road after redeveloping the site in two phases. The first phase will include an addition to the old movie theater on-site as well as improvements to parking and drainage. The second phase will consist of remodeling what was a Chili’s restaurant to add a second story.

To accommodate this plan, the Humane Society requested a 25-year extension for the expiration of the site plan permit.

“About 82 percent of our income comes from donations,” explained Jonon. “It’s really hard to predict when and how those donations will come in.”

The nonprofit is running a $30 million capital campaign to fund the expansion and improvement of its facilities. It’s the largest campaign the nonprofit has ever undertaken in hopes of augmenting its $3.3 million annual budget.

Randall Rouda with the Development Services Department told commissioners that while staff agreed with the need for extending the expiration date of the site plan, seven years would be a more appropriate extension. Pushing the expiration date a quarter of a century into the future, Rouda explained, will allow the engineers to freeze the code regulations in 2019 without incorporating future updates.

Steve Ihnen of Garrett-Ihnen Civil Engineers, who was representing the applicant, said that although code compliance was an important consideration, “It would be really unfortunate for them to raise these funds and then five years from now they can’t do something because code has changed.”

Ihnen said the majority of the dollars and work will be up front in phase one of the development.

Jonon noted that the 25-year site plan extension was simply a just-in-case buffer. “We’re anticipating and hoping for a five-year plan,” she said. In an effort to compromise with the Humane Society’s request and city staffers’ recommendation, Jonon suggested a 15-year extension.

She said not receiving an extension beyond seven years could potentially increase the overall cost of the project and jeopardize future donations. If the nonprofit needed to reapply for another extension, it can require repurposing donated funds toward city application fees rather than the actual construction of the new facilities.

Commissioners agreed that a 15-year extension was an appropriate request under the circumstances. They voted unanimously to recommend the extension of the phasing plan with the final phase to begin no later than 15 years from the date of administrative approval. Commissioners Awais Azhar, Yvette Flores, Patrick Howard, Carmen Llanes-Pulido, Robert Schneider and James Shieh were absent.

Photo courtesy of the Austin Humane Society.

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