Wednesday, April 1, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Historic zoning, demolitions on hold for the time being

When it comes to zoning cases, the city has carved many different timelines into the code to keep cases moving forward. Those timelines are currently on hold.

For historic zoning cases, non-administratively approved applications have been stopped in their tracks until the Historic Landmark Commission can reconvene.

Jerry Rusthoven, the assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department, told the Austin Monitor that there is more flexibility for historic zoning cases than with other zoning cases since the state does not dictate these deadline processes. A mayoral order issued March 17 suspended all deadlines imposed by city code, ordinance, rule or regulation until May 1.

When the city canceled the March 23 Historic Landmark Commission meeting, the timeline freeze had already gone into effect.

For historic zoning applications, these frozen timelines include the requirement that the Historic Landmark Commission make a decision within 75 days of an application submission, the limitation of postponements by the commission to 180 days and the stipulation that the commission holds a public hearing on an application within 60 days of receipt of a complete application.

As a result of this citywide pause, Rusthoven said, “Nothing by default has been approved.”

Kevin Koch, who sits on the commission, told the Monitor via text message, “Demolition cases timing out without being heard would have been the biggest concern; luckily there were none since we hadn’t postponed any in the last meeting.”

Rusthoven said the plan is to hold the next regularly scheduled Historic Landmark Commission meeting on April 27. Following that, he told the Monitor he expects a new set of procedures for hearing cases will develop and that the department will be able to process cases in accordance with code-mandated timelines.

“I would anticipate, at this time, to probably do the virtual meeting like we are doing for the Planning Commission for the Historic Landmark Commission.” That means the initial commission meeting will focus on consent cases and postponements to work out any technological kinks before commissioners take on discussion cases in subsequent meetings.

In the background, applications for demolitions and relocations, partial demolitions and rehabilitation work are still rolling into the Planning and Zoning Department. Deputy Preservation Officer Cara Bertron told the Monitor over email that “the applications have slowed down somewhat in recent weeks, but we haven’t seen a drastic reduction.”

As the city works to bring HLC commissioners together and recommence regular meetings, Koch said he is prepared to shoulder an increased workload to play catch-up and keep cases moving through the city process. “I do feel for the applicants seeing a one-month delay in their projects,” he said. “This situation is the definition of extraordinary!”

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historic preservation: Official actions of a municipality such as the City of Austin taken to preserve structures with their jurisdiction. Preservation is often accompanied by a property tax exemption.

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