Monday, March 2, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Parks board asks Council to add commercial projects to parkland dedication ordinance

The Parks and Recreation Board has asked for a change to the city’s parkland dedication ordinance that would require commercial developments to set aside parkland or make a fee-in-lieu payment to the city.

The resolution unanimously approved at last week’s parks board meeting asks City Council to expand the applicability of the ordinance to include commercial projects in addition to the residential and hotel/motel construction that is already covered. The board recommended that commercial developments be required to set aside 100 square feet of park space for each employee on-site, up to a land area representing 10 percent of the total area of the project.

The action was taken in part because of an amendment to the Land Development Code proposed by Mayor Steve Adler that would allow new developments of up to 6 acres located in transit corridors to opt for the fee in lieu rather than requiring them to create park space on their project.

Adler’s amendment would also allow the fee to be applied to projects located in a floodplain or on land featuring drainage facilities or environmental buffers suitable for park use.

Board members are concerned that much of the land fitting those descriptions is located in East Austin, which contains many areas that have been determined to lack park space that is easily accessible to residents.

Since the inception of the ordinance in 1985, developers have set aside more than 1,700 acres of land for new parks, with the fee-in-lieu payments helping to fund the Parks and Recreation Department.

Chair Dawn Lewis said, “There were some red flags that were raised because this amendment would weaken some of the part of the ordinance in the sense that it would lessen equity. The gist of it was the transit corridors in the Land Development Code, they would allow those properties to kind of not have to adhere,” she said. “If amendments like this pass then that opens the door for it to happen in other ways, too, and that really concerns me.”

Adler’s amendment could be considered as part of the third reading of the new land code, which is set to take place in late March or early April.

In October the parks board voted to ask Council to make no changes to the parkland ordinance in the course of adopting the new code.

Board Member Rich DePalma, who put together a presentation showing Austin’s low national rankings in total parkland and accessibility to residents, said the commercial project considerations were suggested during a 2016 update to the parkland ordinance but were added late in the process and didn’t make it into the approved language.

That change was put forward by Council Member Kathie Tovo, who also pushed to have hotels and motels included as projects that would be subject to the ordinance.

DePalma said he was concerned that large parcels in East Austin located in transit areas could theoretically be subdivided into phases under 6 acres, removing them from automatically having to set aside needed park space.

Photo by Nick Amoscato made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Land Development Code: The city's Land Development Code regulates building and development in the city of Austin. As part of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the code is currently undergoing a rewrite in what is called the "CodeNEXT." That process is expected to be completed in 2016.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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