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City Council: Less Is More

CMs tackle stealth dorms and economic incentives deals

By Michael King, Fri., Feb. 14, 2014

Judging from Tuesday's gristly work session, council members remain uncertain whether to proceed on reducing occupancy limits in residential neighborhoods (single-family zoning) from six to four unrelated adults. That's Item 86, a public hearing that will likely be volatile, since city planning staff is dubious of the proposal, advocates are simmering, and the issue has polarized neighborhood associations and defenders of renters, with increasingly bitter online exchanges: "bleeding neighborhoods" vs. "affordability."

If that's not enough to argue over, the morning briefings include not only an annual report on economic development (Item 58), but also the layout of proposed economic incentive deals (Item 59) for tech companies Websense and Dropbox, as well as proposed amendments to the Density Bonus Program for the Rainey Street district (Item 84). It says here one or more of those discussions will be punted, but expect the incentive proposals (open to public comment) to be heard, as they are time-sensitive – with public hearings to be set for next week's meeting, Feb. 20.

Early on (Items 17-21) there will be several proposals for loans to help kick-start affordable housing projects, three sponsored by Foun­da­tion Communities and a fourth, mixed-use project near Lakeline Mall. Listed on consent, those might get ceremonial discussion, but are unlikely to be controversial, as they are effectively matching funds for potential state Housing and Community Develop­ment tax credits, part of the reason we vote for those bonds every few years.

On the list of council-sponsored items is Item 43 (Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Mike Martinez), regarding annual fee waivers and spending authorization for additional police protection and enforcement during the SXSW Festival. These involve city-determined additions above and beyond what the festival sponsors already pay for, but like the economic incentive packages, all such waivers are getting increased public scrutiny (i.e., since Formula One) as alleged "corporate welfare" – so expect some opposition. (For the first time this year, the city has already capped permits for miscellaneous private events that piggyback on the Festival; it will be interesting to see how well that works come March.)

One resolution (Item 44) directs staff to develop a plan to help finance Homestead Preservation Districts (a potential bulwark against gentrification); another (Item 46) would rescind the city's authorization for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority plan to build Sound Wall No. 3 in Allandale (see "Noise Over MoPac," Jan. 10). Will CTRMA listen, or will the highway noise obscure the official ears?

The musical guests of the day are dance-funk trio Sphynx; hoist a glass of "Razberry Wine" in their mellifluous honor. Follow it with a bit of wheatgrass juice for the winners of the Wildlife Austin Habitat Challenge. Once again, my thoroughly native yard full of crabgrass and bitterweed failed to make the cut.

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