Council: Time for Some Halloween Horrors
Featuring The Unholy Return of the Short-Term Rentals Ordinance
By Michael King and Amy Smith, Fri., Oct. 19, 2012
The emotional high point of today's (Thursday's) City Council meeting is likely to be the first 5:30pm proclamation: a memorial Distinguished Service award to the family members of Austin Police Department officer Jaime Padron, slain last April in the line of duty. The proclamations (following live music, this week Waldo Wittenmyer) break council meetings at the evening hour, and while always enthusiastic, are often of particular interest only to recipients and their immediate family and colleagues. Not so for Padron, who directly gave his life to save others – expect a big and heartfelt turnout.
Elsewhere on the agenda, there will undoubtedly be other emotions. It's October, when all the horror movies hit the screens, and this week's feature is The Unholy Return of the Short-Term Rentals Ordinance. (Just when you thought it was safe to go out in the neighborhood.) The ordinance took effect Oct. 1, but nobody seems to understand it. It's more expensive than anyone realized it would be, and less than two dozen of the hundreds of STR owners have registered their rentals. There are two agenda items on STRs: a staff proposal (Item 28) to cut the notification fee (along with related requirements) from the standard $241 to $50, and a more far-reaching resolution (69), from Bill Spelman, Chris Riley, and Mike Martinez, that would direct the city manager to review the original ordinance as to the fees, registration procedures, and other requirements, and bring back a proposal within 120 days. In other words, back to the drawing board. Wryly describing the new ordinance as "the gift that keeps on giving," city planning staffer Jerry Rusthoven said the notification fee change can be done readily, but the other proposed changes – and their potential effects – will take some time to review.
In other business, the morning briefings feature a Strategic Facilities Assessment, for all you facilities wonks in the audience, and – for the by now nearly breathless gearheads – a Formula One update (hopefully complete with escape instructions). Also on the agenda (Item 91): a new planned unit development on Lady Bird Lake, known as the Broadstone on the Lake PUD.
On a lighter and potentially more generally pleasing note, the morning promises the announcement of the winner of the four-team design competition for the Waller Creek redevelopment – council can concur with the choice of the competition jury or make its own choice (the latter much more melodramatic, of course), but on paper, all the designs are pretty impressive.
Last week, Council voted 4-3 to scrap the sale of a small city-owned parcel at 64 Rainey Street, a victory for supporters of the neighboring Mexican American Cultural Center. Instead, council directed staff to develop plans for incorporating the property into the MACC's master plan. (Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole along with Chris Riley and Bill Spelman lost 4-3 on a counter proposal to sell the property for the highest price option – $1.2 million – and to dedicate $200,000 to fund priorities outlined in the Hispanic quality-of-life study.) Hispanic leaders argued that the proposed commercial parking structure would obscure the sight lines of the MACC, the last remnant of the Hispanic community's place in the historic Rainey Street neighborhood.
Council also unanimously rejected a legal settlement that would have withdrawn opposition to a developer's request for a state permit to spray treated sewage over the Edwards Aquifer. Jeremiah Ventures wants to build a 1,500-home residential community on a 600-acre site in Hays County and applied for a wastewater permit in 2008, prompting the city and other jurisdictions to file objections with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. (The city owns adjacent watershed protection lands.) Developers have since reached agreements with the other public entities and had hoped for the same with the city before a November TCEQ hearing. (See "Then There's This," Oct. 12 and Sept. 28.)