Strengthening the Ordinance

City Code: Section 25-8, Artic­le 12 (Save Our Springs Initiative)

While both the Environmental Board and the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the proposed ordinance, the Environ­ment­al Board did so on Oct. 3 with eight substantial conditions. At Planning Commission, the motion passed Oct. 23 with six amendments, including one that would limit the ordinance to property with existing commercial – not multifamily or other – development. Such amendments tend to be treated seriously by City Coun­cil, but they are not binding.

Below is a synthesis of key recommendations for refining the draft ordinance that have come forward from the Environmental Board, Save Bar­ton Creek Association, the Austin Neighbor­hoods Council, Save Our Springs Alliance, and the Sierra Club, among other responders. Least likely to occur are the first two listed; neither has Leffing­well's support. Requiring a supermajority vote would deter developers from using the new redevelopment terms, by adding greater uncertainty. A limited pilot program could test the waters, but result in missed opportunities.

• Pilot Program

Not addressed in the draft ordinance.

PC recommendation: Implement as a pilot program, as suggested by SOS, limited to the first 10 properties or first 35 acres that file for redevelopment. Assess at end of two years.

• Conditions requiring City Council project approval:

Under amendment as drafted, proposed triggers for a council vote are any one of:

1) multifamily unit increase over 25%;

2) inconsistent with neighborhood plan;

3) generates more than 2,000 additional car trips a day.

Recommendation: Add another threshold trigger for increased square footage (e.g., 10% increase), to discourage increased density over the watershed. Planning Commission amendment: Lower the trigger for required council approval of a project, to 1,000 increased vehicle trips per day (down from 2,000). Add 10-unit increase trigger for multifamily properties (if included at all). Require all projects outside city limits to go before council, due to lack of zoning. (PC endorsed.)

• Terms of City Council vote

Proposed is simple majority (4-3) approval on redevelopment projects that go to council because of the triggers above.

Recommendation: Require supermajority (6-1) council approval.

• Public review

Proposed is public review only for projects (as above) that go to council.

Recommendation: Provide for public review process, at least for all large projects.

• Construction pollution

Not addressed in the draft ordinance. Most pollution (75-90%) comes from a site during the construction phase, not its developed use over time.

Recommendations: Update criteria for construction phase pollution controls, e.g. city Environ­ment­al Criteria Manual. (PC endorsed.) Dedicate a city environmental inspector to review construction sites at least weekly, and whenever it rains. (PC endorsed.) Strengthen enforcement policy. Increase city staffing for enforcement. Create and impose fines for polluting contractors.

• Construction Bond

Not addressed in the draft ordinance.

Recommendation: Require construction-phase bond to be posted to ensure funding for cleanup in case of failure. (PC endorsed.)

• Water-quality structure maintenance

Not addressed in the draft ordinance.

Recommendation: City staff currently can't keep up with inspections, to ensure long-term maintenance and performance of ponds and structures. Create landowner incentives, such as bonding/insurance mechanisms, and/or add city staff to ensure long-term effectiveness. Consider additional developer fee to fund enforcement of BSZ water quality controls.

• Open space funding

The draft ordinance proposes a mitigation fee to acquire BSZ conservation land of $15,000/acre, to be increased 3% annually.

Recommendations: Tie land valuation and annual increase to a standard price index annually, rather than setting absolute numbers. Clarify more specific terms for acquiring mitigation land.

• Credits for septic system removal

Not addressed in the draft ordinance.

Recommendation: Staff should investigate giving such credits. (PC endorsed.)

  • More of the Story

  • Watershed Redo

    How redevelopment can save the springs ... or not

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