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Council starts process to charge park fees for office buildings

Friday, April 8, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday directing city staff to bring back amendments to the city’s parkland dedication ordinance that would require new office, commercial and industrial developments to provide parkland or pay into the city’s parkland dedication fund. Currently, only new residential developments are required to pay such fees.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter sponsored the resolution, which gathered six co-sponsors. Mayor Steve Adler, one of the original co-sponsors, added language stressing the need for staff to “establish the legally required nexus” between the need for parkland and establishment of fees for individual properties.

Randy Scott, park development coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Department, told the Austin Monitor that staff members would provide information to show that there was an appropriate connection between the proposed fees for commercial property development and the need for new parkland.

Alter pointed out that workers taking their lunch breaks often use parks and trails close to their offices and other workplaces. She said growth in the commercial and industrial segments of the community has fueled the need for additional parkland.

“The item before us is an opportunity to make sure that our commercial growth in the city is helping” to meet the needs of the city, she said. “I want to be clear that it initiates an engagement process that will allow members of the community to participate in the process.” Part of the resolution directs the city manager to engage with stakeholders and place an ordinance amendment on Council’s agenda that provides Council with sufficient time to adopt the amendment and place the fee in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

Unsurprisingly, the Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously to support the ordinance change, recognizing that parkland dedication fees “have provided crucial funding for the acquisition of parkland and improvement of parks.” According to the resolution, the ordinance has provided for the acquisition of more than 1,700 acres of parkland since being enacted in 2007. Dawn Lewis, president of the board, spoke to Council Thursday, urging them to support the item.

Although no one showed up to speak in opposition to the fees, the Real Estate Council of Austin, Downtown Austin Alliance and Austin Apartment Association sent a joint letter to Council members, urging them to vote against the resolution. In the past, RECA also opposed Council actions raising the fees on residential development.

According to information on the city’s website, a 1984 Texas Supreme Court decision established that requiring parkland dedication or fees in lieu “was a valid exercise of the city’s police power because it was substantially related to the health, safety and general welfare of the people.” The case is known as City of College Station vs. Turtle Rock Corporation.

In February 2020, the parks board passed a resolution urging that the Land Development Code include commercial properties within the parkland dedication ordinance. However, the new code was stopped in its tracks.

A number of Texas cities, including Hutto and El Paso, require commercial, industrial and office developments to help fund parks.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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