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'Grandfathering' Politics

Council tentatively passes new development rules

By Amy Smith, 2:07PM, Tue. May. 6

'Grandfathering' Politics
photo by John Anderson

A new vested rights ordinance – also known as the “grandfathering” or project duration ordinance – passed on first reading last week, and is set to return to City Council on May 22.

Until then, there could be heavy lobbying by the Real Estate Council of Austin on one side and environmental representatives on the other in an attempt to move the needle in their favor. As they stand now, the new rules appear to have left developers holding the shorter straw.

In short, Council preliminarily passed the ordinance approved by the Planning Commission in April, but added several changes and clarifications in a lengthy, confusing fashion. The vote was 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell “symbolically” voting no because of what he called a couple of serious flaws in the version as it now exists.

Council is going through this exercise, using buzzwords like the "flat nine," the "new napkin" the “old napkin,” and the “dreaded daisy chain,” because it repealed its entire project duration ordinance last year after an Attorney General opinion that found the city’s development rules to be out of step with state law.

The big-picture items taken up last week included giving developers a nine-year lifespan on their projects, which is what RECA had requested, albeit with more flexibility; establishing guidelines on Managed Growth Agreements (applies to multi-faceted projects such as subdivisions), with the understanding that additional changes would be proposed before the ordinance returns on May 22; and tightened the project consent agreement process that would require landowners claiming grandfathering rights on their projects to make stops at the Environmental Board and the Land Use Commission.

Most of the heavy lifting on the dais was done by Council Members Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison, and Kathie Tovo, who each introduced several amendments. Spelman’s motions leaned in the developers’ favor while Morrison and Tovo’s proposals were more enviro-oriented. Perhaps the most interesting twist turned on the number of times Council Member and mayoral candidate Mike Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem and potential mayoral hopeful Sheryl Cole voted up or down in alignment with Morrison and Tovo. Watch for any windshifts in the May 22 round.

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