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Council: Call It Spring Break

Leffingwell's absence makes for a very short meeting

By Michael King, Fri., March 14, 2014

With SXSW looming and Mayor Lee Lef­fing­well having hopped the initial Dreamliner redeye to London last Monday, last Thurs­day's City Council meeting was among the most perfunctory in recent memory, actually adjourning in pre-DST daylight at 5:25pm, before the music and proclamations made their honorary appearances. The day was not without its accomplishments, although certain vexed questions were, as anticipated, punted down the road.

At the mayor's earlier request, and after some consternation over the projected numbers in Tuesday's work session, a proposal to raise the residential property tax exemption for the disabled and those 65 or older (Item 4) was postponed to March 20.

The setting of a couple of public hearings on expanding environmental protections along Lake Austin (Items 27 and 28) were postponed to March 20; the hearings themselves will probably take place in April.

All three scheduled 4pm public hearings were postponed: a review of vested development rights (i.e., grandfathering), until April 10; a floodplain variance on Jim Hogg Avenue, until March 20; and most interesting, the hearing on the proposed master plan for Festival Beach/Fiesta Gardens – delayed until the evening of May 22; apparently quite a few neighborhood folks and associations want to weigh in on the 99 acres of potential parkland.

Council did get a few things accomplished on this abbreviated day, notably a resolution to "research the feasibility" of Austin's attracting a Major League Soccer franchise – thereby mainly triggering the public media discussion, which at the moment is focused on potential stadium locations. It'll be a while for that conversation to percolate. And they created a "Generation Resource Planning Task Force" to gather input from the usual renewable energy advocates along with big users.

Perhaps the most substantive action was Item 12, the approval of the "Urban Forest Plan: A Master Plan for Public Properties," after some sharp criticism by tree advocates who believe the plan is insufficiently "data-driven" and doesn't pay enough attention to the entire "tree canopy," including on private lands. Staff and Council members talked over plans to gather additional data (and legal counsel) on the latter issue. This was described as a first step in "a long process" to get the city's arms around the whole question of urban trees, while the ongoing drought continues its deadly work. Staff set an "ambitious" 18-month goal to return to Council with the next stage of research.

Looking forward: The thus-far 76-item draft agenda for March 20 will return to both that property tax exemption matter and the residential, four-person "occupancy limit" that caused so much heartburn at the Feb. 13 meeting. The public hearing is closed, but the wounds remain open.

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