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Planning Commission recommends airport master development plan update

Thursday, August 24, 2023 by Nina Hernandez

The Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend an update to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s Master Development Plan Ordinance.

The airport’s Master Development Plan Ordinance must be updated every 10 years. It allows the city to look at the site comprehensively, and for a streamlined construction process on future projects. This version will replace the last version updated in 2012 and is the result of a collaborative effort between AUS, the Watershed Protection Department, and Development Services.

According to a staff memo, the update will “allow AUS to effectively deliver its development and expansion program while ensuring environmental stewardship and upholding community driven sustainability practices.”

AUS is currently undergoing an urgently needed expansion project as staff works to contend with record levels of passenger traffic and a nationwide air traffic control operator shortage. The city also recently paid out an $88 million settlement in order to take control of the South Terminal, which it hopes will be another step toward managing the traffic.

The master development plan enables the city to treat the airport as a single site plan and look at it comprehensively as a campus for planning purposes. It allows for the construction and demolition of buildings on the campus, as well as utility improvements. Keith Mars, assistant director of the Development Services Department, said the ordinance allows the improvements to be done “holistically” and in a way that can meet the airport’s needs.

“Unlike much development, the airport is a campus, it is a system,” Mars said. “As you know, our Land Development Code can struggle with these types of projects because there was no contemplation of that necessarily for something of this nature.”

The update will make changes to allow AUS to use the airport’s master site plan as the site plan to obtain a building demolition permit for Air Force structures over 10,000 square feet, exempt land within its boundaries from specific requirements consistent with existing exemptions for land zoned for aviation, and create overlapping site plans under review. It will also enable the airport to implement a campuswide approach that will allow it to exceed water quality requirements.

The update has already cleared the Environmental Commission and is scheduled for a vote at the Airport Advisory Commission in September.

Planning Commissioner Awais Azhar made the motion to approve, which was seconded by Commissioner Greg Anderson. In particular, he praised staff’s work with regard to the Critical Water Quality Zone.

“I think anybody who has traveled and used our airport in the past year or so realizes that we really need to get some of this work done, I think it’s critical for our community,” Azhar said. “I just want to say I appreciate the work the airport is doing to make sure we are meeting our community’s commitments and living up to the commitments and beyond them. So it’s exciting to see that we will continue to work with the community and we are doing the work that needs to be done.”

Photo by Joe Mabel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia CommonsThis story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Airport Advisory Commission has not yet taken action on the plan update.

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