Photo by city of Austin
Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Daniel Salazar

Postponement shows ZAP issues around receiving timely public comment

The Zoning and Platting Commission voted to postpone the only zoning discussion case of their first meeting of the year.

The request was to grant Townhouse & Condominium Residence (SF-6) district zoning on 24.3 acres at 8201 Thaxton Road.

But the discussion turned out to be a demonstration of how cases can be affected by the registration process set up to gather public comment.

Commission Chair Jolene Kiolbassa said a citizen wanted to speak at the meeting in opposition to the rezoning request, but hadn’t followed the correct procedures to sign up to speak in time.

Under ZAP’s rules for public comment, all speakers including applicants must register in advance, by noon the day before the scheduled meeting.

Husch Blackwell LLP’s Micah King, the agent representing the property owner, said they didn’t have a problem with the resident speaking at the meeting, but preferred that the case discussion move ahead.

“The problem is that we are trying to keep on schedule with our hearings and have had a lot of gaps with hearing dates with the holidays,” King said.

Commissioner Ana Aguirre motioned to postpone the case to the Jan. 19 meeting “in good faith and in respect” to the neighbor who wanted to speak about the rezoning.

Commissioner Bruce Evans voted against the postponement, saying delays can cost project managers valuable time and energy.

“I don’t see a reason to delay a case with the expense that it takes, with time and everything else, if somebody has been given instructions and chose not to follow them,” Evans said.

Commissioner Timothy Bray, who abstained on the vote, asked if there was a technical reason for the cutoff deadline for registering to speak.

“It just seems to me kind of absurd,” Bray said. “I would rather just let the person speak today even if they didn’t sign up ‘in time’ rather than go through this whole delay.

“It just seems like a ridiculous, worst result for everyone all around to just delay it because someone didn’t sign up in time,” he added. “There needs to be something else we can do here.”

Andrew Rivera, who serves as the commission’s liaison in the Planning and Zoning Department, said the process is set up the way it is due to city staffers’ time constraints.

Commissioner Ann Denkler said she shared “everyone’s frustration” over the issue.

“We really need to fix the notices so that people know that they … have a certain time frame,” she said.

Kiolbassa said there needs to be a future agenda item about postponements over receiving public comment.

“I think it is important because this is not the first time that this has happened,” she said.

Denkler added it probably wouldn’t be necessary to create another working group to study the issue.

“I really think the sign-up beforehand has caught lots of folks off guard,” Denkler said.

Bray also suggested that residents could be told to email the commission if they miss the deadline to speak at meetings.

“Obviously it’s not as good as speaking in person, but it’s better than not having a chance to have their thoughts put out,” Bray said.

Evans noted that notices include the instructions, as well as a link to instructions, on how to sign up to speak.

“To cause an applicant or anybody a delay in time because somebody simply says ‘I didn’t understand,’ we’re past the hand-holding stage here,” Evans said. “I don’t think that the applicant should bear the brunt of that, and that’s what we’re doing in situations like this.”

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City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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