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City finds clarity on construction rules

Friday, April 3, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin’s Department of Development Services announced Thursday that, with new statewide guidelines about essential services in place, a new committee that was formed to evaluate construction projects will be disbanded. However, the department was quick to note that worker protections designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 remain in place, and Austin Code inspectors will continue to monitor worksites to ensure they are being observed. For those still struggling to stay current, the city has also helpfully released a new set of supplemental guidelines detailing how to correctly follow the current regulations. The Real Estate Council of Austin, which previously opposed the city’s restrictions on construction, seemed to take more kindly to the order by the governor. “Like many throughout the industry we are still working to fully analyze the effects and implications that the governor’s order will have on the industry and current environment. Based on the language, the governor’s order provides more expansive exemptions and definitions based upon current CISA (Department of Homeland Security) guidelines.” said RECA Board Chair Peter Cesaro. The guidelines “specifically regard ‘essential services’ to include ‘workers performing housing construction related activities to ensure additional units can be made available to combat the nation’s existing housing supply shortage.’ Regarding commercial construction, more in-depth CISA guidelines seem to allow much more activity under essential critical infrastructure, including commercial facilities defined to include hotels, motels, conference centers, arenas, stadiums, office and apartment buildings, condos, mixed use, retail centers, and sports leagues. RECA does not place its own interpretation of the governor’s order ahead of legal counsel sought by its respective members. Within a commercial construction context, RECA does believe that the governor’s reference to CISA guidelines certainly provides more flexibility than did orders previously issued by the city of Austin and Travis County.”

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