Thursday, April 2, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

City clocks for zoning applications stopped ticking, state deadlines still in effect

A mayoral order issued March 17 effectively paused all deadlines outlined in city code until May 1; however, state deadlines remain in effect.

For zoning cases, that means conventional rules are suspended – such as applications appearing before a land use commission within 180 days after submittal, or placing a preliminary plan or plat on a land use commission agenda no later than the 30th day after the director has accepted an application. At the same time, subdivisions that require consideration by the land use commission under the provisions of House Bill 3167 are still on the clock.

HB 3167, known as the “shot clock” bill, went into effect last September and accelerates the subdivision review timeline by requiring cities to automatically approve applications if a decision has not been made within 30 calendar days of being submitted.

“The city of Austin, along with many other cities and counties across the state of Texas, has appealed to the governor requesting temporary relief from some of the approval timelines specified by HB 3167,” a spokesperson for the city told the Austin Monitor via email. Since the governor has not responded to the appeal, city staffers are working to accommodate projects subject to the timeline. However, there are no projects at risk of violating the state-mandated deadline.

Before City Council halted all board and commission meetings for most of the month of March, there were no subdivision applications scheduled for those canceled meetings, according to the city spokesperson.

With no cases with looming deadlines to address when commissions reconvene, Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department, told the Monitor that the department is looking to conduct city business as normally as possible. Staffers are working out the necessary logistics to allow the Planning Commission to meet virtually on April 14 and focus on consent cases, postponements and new cases that are subject to the rules outlined in House Bill 3167. In future meetings, Rusthoven said discussion cases will be added to the agenda.

Both the April 14 and April 28 Planning Commission agendas will have cases that are subject to HB 3167 deadlines. There are three hearings scheduled for April 14 and two further applications scheduled for consideration on the April 28 agenda. The April 7 Zoning and Platting Commission meeting is canceled.

“They’re still trying to keep the process going to some extent and I do appreciate that,” David King, who sits on the Zoning and Platting Commission, told the Monitor. However, he noted that continuing to have a timeline on the subdivision cases is concerning. “I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

Cases subject to city timelines are not as pressing as subdivision cases. According to Rusthoven, cases are not expiring under city code while Austin is operating under emergency conditions for Covid-19. “That takes some pressure off of us,” he said.

While city-imposed deadlines are momentarily paused, the way an application travels through city administration has not changed. “State law dictates who approves zoning cases and so we have to follow state law,” said Rusthoven. That means Planning and Zoning staffers have not received authorization that would widen their purview for administrative approval and relieve some of the cases waiting to pass through commissions.

The cases waiting for commission review will still need to follow city processes, albeit with a delay.

Photo by LoneStarMike/CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Development Services Department: A city department that reviews development and inspection services.

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