The Austin Chronicle

We’re Our Own Grandpaws

By Michael King, April 15, 2014, 2:30pm, Newsdesk

Having postponed much of last week’s agenda – when the president requests your presence, something’s gotta giveCity Council members left themselves plenty to do this week, including the return of “vested development rights” (i.e., grandfathering) and the proposed historic zoning of the Baylor House (“Then There’s This,” April 11). Oh, and beer

Last Thursday, arriving just before 2pm (after the Obama presidential motorcade had made its extended, street-closing departure), Council punted much of the agenda, but before its early adjournment did manage to address two contentious issues: developing a mid-year budget adjustment policy, and initiating a revision of the SMART housing criteria, standards for incentivizing affordable housing, which must be “Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably priced, and Transit-oriented.”

The budget fix was a response to controversy over last year’s mid-year spending (mostly to sustain affordable housing projects) and some current grumbling over proposals to spend some of this year’s “surplus” ahead of actual budget season. Since budget season begins next week -- yep, first budget work session is April 24 – this may have been a little ado about not very much, but there’s now a written policy in place (at least until next year) that will make it slightly more difficult to allocate funds off-budget.

The SMART revision began as a proposed amendment by CM Chris Riley, to reinforce the “T” by requiring that city-supported affordable housing be located within walking distance of mass transit, and not just as the crow flies. After much discussion, CM Bill Spelman proposed expanding the revision to include the whole SMART policy, and it passed 5-2 (CMs Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo dissenting). The question became whether such a provision would remove whole swaths of potential neighborhoods for affordable housing (which definitely tells you something about our local mass transit system), although by the time the proposal returns as an ordinance, it might be only a tweak.

And that clang you heard in the distance was the first bell in the upcoming District 9 Council campaign, starring Riley and Tovo.

This week, there will be plenty of grist for the public mill, although much of the fireworks may be off the dais. The revised vested (“grandfathered”) development rights ordinance (replacing the Project Duration Ordinance, which – according to Attorney General Greg Abbott – ran afoul of state law) has caused heartburn at the Planning Commission earlier this month, although the Commission did recommend it to Council. Neither environmentalists nor developers are happy with the current draft (for the usual opposing reasons: too easy or too hard to maintain original development plans), which might mean it’s a decent compromise (or contrarywise, that it’s a bad ordinance), but either way, expect a charged hearing.

The same is true of the Baylor House hearing, concerning an important Clarksville historical home – at least in the eyes of the Historic Landmark Commission, if not the Planning Commission, which made no recommendation. The current homeowner wants to raze it, preservationists want to save it, and both sides will be heard.

Other agenda proposals of note that might draw some heat include: expansion of the Austin Regional Intelligence Center to include more local PDs; a resolution to initiate an ordinance against housing discrimination based on “source of income” (e.g., housing vouchers); a inventory review of city properties for affordable housing potential; a race/gender “pay equity” proposal; a hearing on a new Lake Austin zoning overlay.

And – if they get to it – there’s also a hearing scheduled for an ordinance to allow local breweries to sell beer and ale on site. Henceforth, perhaps some enterprising brewer can cater Council meetings.

The entire City Council meeting agenda, including links to backup documents, is available here.

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