City Council: Keep ’Em Waiting

Council punts short-term rentals, pops the 290 landfills

City Council held a fairly efficient meeting Thursday, clearing a few decks and adjourning at a reasonable 7:15pm. It helped that they punted until next week the subject likely to suck the most time and cause the most heartburn: Short-Term Rental regulations. Something to look forward to for the holiday.

Hidden Valley / High Meadows Residents' Association, Austin Interfaith, and CM's Delia Garza and Greg Casar celebrate mobile home agreement (Photo courtesy of Austin Interfaith)

The delay, tentatively accepted in the morning and later confirmed, was formally a response to Mayor Steve Adler’s request – posted on the Council message board. Adler was in Cambridge, taking part in a “new mayors” program at Harvard, and requested that the entire STR Item be postponed, or (if the public hearing were held) action be deferred until his return. “I have concerns about splitting the ordinance up for action,” the mayor told his colleagues, “as this may cause confusion with the public and result in a fractured process and because the draft ordinance sections are very interconnected. Even if it were possible to handle non-controversial issues separately (if that were possible), it seems handling those later would not increase subsequent burden because such matters would be non-controversial.”

Although some Council members wanted to move forward on consensus aspects of the new rules – Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, chairing the meeting, had mentioned the elimination of the “testing the waters” STR advertising provision – others wanted to delay into January, and briefly it appeared, just before the dinner break, that a postponement to Jan. 28 had passed, 5-4. But when Council returned, Tovo said there had been a “glitch” in the vote count, and re-vote failed, 5-5. In the end, Council voted unanimously to postpone until Dec. 17, with the option for splitting the provisions or reinstating the delay into January.

It matters not only because supporters of the new regs say they have waited long enough, but because next week’s draft, end-of-the-year agenda – already boasting 100 items – includes the much-disputed revisions of the “transportation networking company” rules (e.g., Uber, Lyft), and now GetMe) as well as plenty more to extended public and dais debate. Happy New Year!

In other actions, Council:

• Postponed into January action on a land sale and Austin Resource Recovery budget adjustment related to kickstarting and funding the “[re] Manufacturing” project out near ABIA; Council had more questions about the transactions and ARR’s Bob Gedert said another month was workable.

• Rejected unanimously an extension of an Austin Energy-related waste contract with Republic Services, primarily because of the long-contested location of the relevant landfills near Hwys 290 East and 183, to the ongoing distress of nearby neighborhoods. Council decided enough was enough – leaving the Purchasing Office and AE uncertain of what they’ll do next with the waste (primarily expired utility poles and other non-hazardous detritus).

• Authorized the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee (CELOC) to apply on behalf of the city for state support for forthcoming MotoGP and XGames events at the Circuit of the Americas. Although the city is not directly on the hook for the costs, some CM’s continue to object to the state program altogether (and Formula One in particular), while others – notably D2 CM Delia Garza and D3 CM Sabino Renteria, both representing Southeast districts – noted that the events do generate both money and jobs, and it doesn’t help the city if the venue fails. The vote was 6-4.

• Ratified amendments to the city’s Meet and Confer contract with the Austin Police Association, intended to make it easier to recruit additional officers to cover “festival season” Downtown, as well as to create incentives for officers to live within the city limits.

• Added additional standards for review to the CodeNEXT land use planning, specifically aimed at expanding affordable housing, fair housing, environmental concerns, etc.

• Approved (or postponed) numerous zoning cases, and postponed another brace of public hearings (including STR’s), several of which will bump to that already extended Dec. 17 agenda.

• And in a touching conclusion to the evening, approved a District 2 rezoning of a tract at Ross Road and Pearce Lane to “mobile home residence” – a dry summation of effectively ratifying an agreement (completed just before Council’s action) between the landowner (Roberts Communities) and the Hidden Valley / High Meadows Residents' Association to enable the residents to achieve representation, rent controls, potential ownership, and protections for undocumented immigrants. Austin Interfaith, which helped broker the agreement, said it sets “an unprecedented standard for ensuring that land use decisions on mobile home parks must protect the quality of life for existing residents.”

• For more on City Council, and a preview of the Dec. 17 meeting, follow the Daily News and next week’s print edition.

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