The Austin Chronicle

'Zombie' Projects and Lake Austin

Council will consider remedy for expired site plans and lake protections

By Amy Smith, August 30, 2013, News

Council returns to environmentally sensitive territory today (Aug. 29) to consider two politically sensitive agenda items involving the Save Our Springs Ordinance: a long-simmering development plan that failed to secure a required six votes from the dais last week, and a proposed effort that would allow certain expired "zombie" projects to bounce back to life under a temporary program.

On the latter (Item 79 by Council Member Bill Spelman and Mayor Lee Leffingwell), an interim mechanism would be established to give developers an opportunity to rejuvenate expired site plans that fell victim to Council's repeal – under legislative duress – of the project duration rules last spring. The first draft of a revised ordinance is currently under review by city boards and commissions.

At Council's work session Tuesday, Kathie Tovo asked why they were considering a small section of the draft revisions without it first going to the Planning Commission for review. Spelman responded with one word: "speed." He added that since the commission is already reviewing a first draft of the revised duration ordinance, "I thought this [proposal] was a small thing we could do right away." He said the proposed temporary program, which would end Sept. 1, 2014, would only impact a small number of development cases. The temporary program would apply to expired site plan applications that were submitted to the city on or after Jan. 1, 2006, and were in compliance with city codes at the time of submission.

Water, Transit, Salary

Council will also revisit a proposed development on more than 34 acres of Southwest Austin property owned by the heirs of Eli Garza, who had a long, litigious relationship with the city before his death in 2005. Item 39 would require site-specific amendments to the 1992 voter-approved SOS ordinance, which limits development over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The matter requires six votes, but it failed 5-2 last week on first reading, with "no" votes from Tovo and Laura Morrison.

Playing off of Spelman's "speed" theme on project duration rules, Council will also consider a resolution supporting the Project Connect High-Capacity Transit System Plan, which would connect population centers across Texas (Item 65).

Council may also weigh jump-starting a set of recommendations of the Lake Austin Task Force, a Council-appointed group that has produced an ambitious course of action for slowing down shoreline erosion and enforcing water quality protections (Item 78, by Morrison, Tovo, and Chris Riley). Given the number of stakeholders involved in all things related to Lake Austin – current homeowners, developers, and recreational enthusiasts, among other players – each of the recommendations will be heavily vetted before reaching the implementation stage. Some of the task force suggestions, presented last week by task force Chair Linda Guerrero, include: code amendments relating to shoreline and dock development, registration and identification of lake docks, "wake zones," and tighter regulations of marine toilets.

And finally, Council will consider compensation and benefits for City Manager Marc Ott as part of his annual performance review. See "Council-Staff Tension Spills Over in Budget Talks." (Item 72).

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