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TipSheet: City Council, 12.9.21

Thursday, December 9, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

In what has become one of our most treasured and least favorite of yearly traditions, the last City Council meeting of the year is always a long one, with everyone trying to get in a last bit of business before Council takes its break until Jan. 27. We’ll note that today will include an executive session, which always makes things longer, and that the entire agenda can be found online. 

Of course, this guide is just an educated guess about the items that are interesting to us, and the items Council is likely to spend the most time on today (not always the same thing). This week, we got a good preview at Tuesday’s work session, which featured a protracted conversation on Item 62, which is Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison’s bid to get more data on how much it costs to build in Austin.

For an information-gathering resolution, one might argue there was an overgenerous amount of conversation, but we’re (nonetheless) expecting that conversation to continue today, with affordable housing continuing to be the hottest of topics at City Hall. However, it’s also possible that conversation could spill over to one of the other items intended to tackle the issue.

Item 56 is the Alter/Adler-led proposal to allow residential uses in commercial zoning districts, which seems to face no resistance from the dais. And Item 64, which was swept into the general conversation on Tuesday, is an attempt to (once again) loosen the barriers homeowners face in building smaller buildings (known as ADUs) on their properties.

Council also spent a fair amount of time on the South Central TIRZ, and whether it could be expanded to include the Snoopy PUD (once known as the Hooters PUD) in any reasonable way. It looks like that will be taken up during a special Dec. 20 meeting, and those who’d like to catch up on the conversation can do so via Jo Clifton

Today Council will be tasked with signing off on Circuit of the Americas funding and governance, usually a fairly rote affair that is somewhat complicated by this year’s SNAFU at the Rolling Stones concert. As a result, we’re expecting this year’s approval to come with an amendment from Council Member Vanessa Fuentes asking for a more coordinated approach in how infrastructure and safety is addressed at COTA. 

Item 58, which was briefly discussed during work session, is an attempt to standardize the ban on alcohol sales within 300 feet of schools by clarifying that it applies to private schools and day care centers as well. There was some consternation about the impact this change could have on grandfathered businesses or whether it could prohibit new child care facilities from opening. (The question about whether existing businesses would become legally noncompliant – which could impact permitting – was not yet answered, but legal assured Council the ban would not stop child care facilities from choosing to open near businesses that sell alcohol.)

Rounding out the work session topics, Council will also take up Item 60, which would grant paid parental leave to sworn staff (like firefighters and police). Though Council seemed supportive of the move on Tuesday, there were still questions about how much the leave would cost the city.

Also on today’s agenda is a resolution from Council Member Fuentes that asks for a community engagement process concerning the relocation of jet-fuel storage. Currently, the proposal calls for relocating the storage tanks close to a southeast community, and the neighbors are none too pleased (as reported by the Austin American-Statesman), given the city’s track record of environmental racism. 

Do you remember when Council had a meltdown over a proposal to phase out Recycled Reads in 2022, when the lease on the Burnet Road property would expire? Well, that time is nigh, and today Council will look at approving a much more expensive lease than the one approved in 2015.

Item 50 will ensure virtual testimony and hybrid meetings will remain an option at City Council and for boards and commissions – with an anticipated cost of $453,058 in next year’s budget. 

In “appointment news” (is that a thing?), Council will take up the appointment of a new city clerk and municipal court judges with items 63 and 65, respectively. Also up for consideration is the purchase of another hotel – this time the Super 8 at 183 and 51st Street across from the YMCA East. 

In addition to the regular zoning agenda, we will note that Item 43 is a proposal to start a process of rezoning the Pickle Research Campus East with UT Austin and stakeholders. And in affordable housing news, the AHFC agenda got a little attention with a Tannehill Lane proposal that had a scoring system that was confusing to the mayor. Here’s a memo that explains it pretty well, but we’re expecting a little more discussion on this one, too. 

Finally, zoning-zoning. Though it’s always hard to say what will be postponed, we’ll echo our earlier sentiments and say that many will prefer to avoid waiting until Jan. 27 to have their case heard, so the meeting has the potential to go pretty late. Aside from that, all bets are off. On the agenda, however, is a rezoning that spurred tenants to organize against their potential displacement on Toomey Road (that’s Item 88).

There’s also a rezoning on Matthews Lane; a project on Rogers Lane that the Zoning and Platting Commission deemed too dense for the narrow road; a proposed office building on Jefferson and 35th that would replace a Burger King; and a multifamily project at Grady and Brownie drives that some say should be reduced by half. There’s also a 16-acre East Austin project on Regiene Road that will be 275 feet tall at its tallest, just to round things out. 

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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 2015, 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 as of 2015, 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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