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TipSheet: City Council, 11.18.21

Thursday, November 18, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

All signs indicate that today’s City Council meeting will be on the lighter side, which is reflected in this week’s TipSheet. As usual, we’ve gathered up the agenda items that are most likely to strike our fancy – readers who prefer a deep dive might want to look through the agenda themselves, which is posted in its entirety online.

Earlier this month, Council Member Greg Casar announced that he would be vacating his City Council seat to run for Congress. Though he will serve for a bit more in a “holdover capacity,” Item 2 on today’s agenda will set an election on Jan. 25 to fill that District 4 seat, with plans to swear in a new representative on April 1, 2022. Also vacating her position is City Clerk Jannette Goodall, who is headed to Fort Worth – Item 51 will appoint an interim city clerk for the time being.

With some form of an expansion of the downtown section of Interstate 35 on the horizon, today the city will consider a contract with professional engineers to explore “cap and stitch” feasibility for the project to mitigate its impact. (More details can be found here.) 

Council will also consider adding a new “VMU2” zoning that will allow construction up to 90 feet in height with the inclusion of affordable housing. (Currently, VMU zoning only allows 60 feet in height, and Council Member Ann Kitchen explains in her resolution that the limitation has made other zoning that does not require affordable housing a more attractive choice for developers in some cases.)

Another item that has attracted a fair amount of attention of late is a plan to establish a city marshal office. Since it was last at Council, Austin Justice Coalition has called upon its members to oppose the new office. However, given the discussion at Tuesday’s work session on Item 35, it seems likely to be postponed today.

With Item 9, Council will give the go-ahead for cultural arts funding that comes from more than $5.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

After a telling move earlier this month, Council will again consider its relationship with Austin Pets Alive! today. This time, they will take up an extension of the shelter’s lease until Feb. 22, with Item 29. 

In terms of zoning, there are a number of cases on today’s agenda that are familiar, although as usual, it’s hard to say which will be taken up for a vote by City Council. Among the most high-profile is a case that spurred displaced tenants to organize, which is Item 88 on the agenda. Council may also discuss the rebirth of the Austin Opry House, which is items 73 and 74 on the agenda. A South Lamar project (which may have inspired the VMU rewrite also on the agenda) is also on deck for final consideration as Item 87, after Council gave it a tentative nod in October. 

We’ve also written about a few other cases that may be taken up today. Item 70 is a multifamily project near Tech Ridge that won over ZAP despite neighborhood concerns. Conversely, Item 75 is a Rogers Lane case that is not recommended by ZAP after the commission heard concerns that the road was “substandard.” ZAP also rejected the Rhett, a planned complex that would use Affordability Unlocked. Commissioners weren’t into the idea of using zoning to get a better design. Council could also take up a zoning case that would put an office building where a Burger King once stood and a multifamily project that the Planning Commission deemed “too dense.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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