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TipSheet: Austin City Council, 9.1.22

Thursday, September 1, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

A peek at today’s City Council agenda reveals what promises to be a very long meeting ahead. We’ve done our best to condense things, with a look at the items that are most likely to attract our attention during the day (and night). Those who want the full experience may also tune in online, starting at 10 a.m. or so, to watch it all go down in real time.

As was the case during Tuesday’s work session, we expect that the proposed planned unit development at the former Statesman site will command a lot of discussion. For one thing, the project has garnered a fair amount of public opposition as it has gone through a lengthy approval process at City Hall. In addition, Tuesday’s discussion revealed that Council members were happy to follow any complicated tangent, from the regulating plan to the construction of ramps on the site, which does not usually lend itself to a concise vote. Today, in addition to a planned vote on the zoning itself, Council will continue discussing the South Central Waterfront District in general. 

Council is also set to take up the issue of license plate readers again. The program was cut in 2020 while the city was “reimagining” public safety. Now, Austin police would like the readers back, and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly is trying to help, but they face opposition from privacy advocates and criminal justice reform groups. Kelly is also facing a lot of skepticism on the dais, as illustrated by a recent post from Council Member Chito Vela.

Council may also look into parkland dedication fees. Some might find it surprising that this is a contentious topic, but with land values skyrocketing, the amount of money flowing into city parks has been questioned by developers and real estate interests, who contend that the funding formula is broken and contributing to unreasonable development costs. On top of that, the city is now considering fees for commercial development in addition to residential development. Today, Council is open to look into all of these issues, though the topic may be postponed to a quieter meeting.

As if that were not enough, Council will have the chance to weigh in on a new, one-year contract for EMS workers. Though negotiations have been heated over the past few months, a tentative deal was struck by both sides last week. It will need approval by the EMS union and Council members to be official.

We’re hearing that a proposed eviction ordinance will probably be postponed today. If adopted, the ordinance would require landlords to provide a notice of proposed eviction before issuing a notice to vacate, as was the case during the pandemic, and establish and protect the rights of tenants who organize.

After several postponements, Council may vote to move forward with the creation of a historic district for Sixth Street, which is currently under intense development pressure. Development (of downtown rail) is also pushing the somewhat-new Austin Rowing Club across the river to the place that once housed the city’s youth hostel. Council Member Kathie Tovo has a resolution guiding that move.

Council Member Leslie Pool has taken up the Library Commission’s resolution supporting the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement, and Council will vote on it today, taking an official stance against book banning in Austin Public Library.

Mayor Steve Adler has a resolution that will kick off a stakeholder process to look at the city’s affordable housing programs, to examine how they could be more effective. And Council Member Ann Kitchen has a resolution that aims to create a bonus program for creative spaces in the city.

Tovo also has two convention center-related resolutions. The first would use convention center funds to rehab the historic Castleman-Bull House for use by the convention center. The second asks that the city revise the fees for the garage and participate in the city’s affordable parking program. 

Council will also consider renaming Pan Am Park to Tony Castillo Pan American Neighborhood Park – a proposal that caused some fuss at the parks board.

Aside from the Statesman PUD, Council also has a number of zoning cases it may consider. These include a potential new bar on Menchaca; The Zimmerman; townhomes in South Austin; a rezoning on Albert Road; and a rezoning on Swansons Ranch Road.

They are also slated to continue a vote on changing the terms of the guiding document for East 11th and 12th streets. The proposal has been met with a mixed reception, and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison is now offering an amendment that would further limit the number of bars that would be allowed in the area. 

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