Thursday, January 16, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

BoA discusses how many postponements are too many

Postponement requests are available to applicants, neighbors and city staff who require extra time to organize their cases for the Board of Adjustment. However, there are certain cases that come before the board where a postponement request is a red flag.

Board Liaison Elaine Ramirez with the Development Services Department brought a discussion about postponement procedure to the board’s Jan. 13 meeting. She explained to board members that the current approach is not standardized and therefore leaves room for cases to be treated unequally. “It’s all determined verbally,” she said.

Chair Don Leighton-Burwell noted that postponements are granted at the discretion of the board, but agreed that “we’re not (a) tool here to just be played with.” The board currently allows a one-time postponement from any party without question but grants additional postponements based on the justification that the requesting party provides.

The discussion was prompted due to a case at 4320 James Casey St. that has been on the board’s agenda since August 2019. While the board did hear the case initially, it has been pushed off in subsequent months to allow the applicant to work with the neighborhood.

Although a postponement is written into the record, Board Member Rahm McDaniel said figuring out how many times a case has previously been delayed is not always straightforward. He suggested putting a counter on the board agenda to indicate whether a case has been put off and how many times.

While there was some agreement for this solution, not all the board members were convinced. “I don’t want to see an arbitrary number slapped on it,” said Board Member Jessica Cohen. “I think the postponements, much like our cases, are unique.”

“I don’t like giving blank postponements for six months,” said Board Member Brooke Bailey, referring to 4320 James Casey St. However, she did explain that there are cases in which a long postponement is necessary and even a better course of action. “We have had cases like the Life Church, which we postponed off and on for two years, and they came to a resolution with the neighborhood.”

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne said another primary reason cases are postponed is due to insufficient information in an application.

To help clarify the reason for a postponement, Board Member Yasmine Smith suggested that the board add a section about postponements to the application packet, so an applicant can submit a justification for a postponement request.

All of the board’s ideas will be collected and discussed in a working group on the topic. Board members Bailey, Leighton-Burwell and Cohen will be involved in those discussions.

Photo by Daniel Kuliniski made available through a Creative Commons license.

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City of Austin Board of Adjustment: The city's Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that decides on variances, special exceptions and can issue interpretations of code.

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