Time To Tweak Code Compliance

Wildlife Habitats could see reprieve with revisions

Are the Wildlife Habitat wars nearly over? Maybe. On Aug. 4, the Austin City Council instructed City Manager Marc Ott to revise how the Code Compliance Department deals with yards designed to attract native species and animals back into the city. That's a relief to Laura Croteau, a Coronado Hills homeowner who cultivated her yard to make it a certified Wildlife Habitat, only to have city Code Compliance staff rule that it violated city right-of-way ordinances and cut down a large swath of bushes (see "From Shrub to Nub," July 8).

The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Mike Mar­tin­ez, struck directly to the core of the issue. "What might be considered 'weeds' or 'unsightly' by some residents, Code Enforcement Officers or the director of the Solid Waste Services is actually an integral part of providing suitable wildlife habitat," the resolution states. Both Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Mem­ber Chris Riley had been watching the matter (it was Leffingwell who sponsored a 2007 resolution instructing then-City Manager Toby Futrell to get the city certified as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat Site). Both offices echoed the long-running concern that the complaint-driven nature of the Code Compliance system can end up dragging the city into neighborhood feuds. A recent glut of citations against artists' workshops (see "East Austin Studio De-Tour," July 15) and an outbreak of violation letters against Fairview neighborhood homeowners for unpermitted construction (much of it completed before the current residents bought their houses) seem to illustrate the potential problems. Staff said they're expecting Ott's recommendations within 60 days, but this still leaves Croteau wondering what the city may demand from her before any new rules are adopted. On Aug. 8, four days after council adopted the resolution, she received another visit from a Code Compli­ance officer, who talked to her about cutting back her mountain laurel. Riley's staff said they had been assured by Code Compliance that their officers will try to avoid any further changes to Croteau's yard that would endanger healthy plants during the drought. Moreover, Croteau said they shouldn't be looking at her laurels at all. She measured them and found they were more than 40 feet from the corner, and thus outside of the distance covered by existing ordinances. It could be a long 60 days.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Code Compliance, Wildlife Habitat, Laura Croteau

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