Council: Vested Interests
Council agenda considers grandfathering, incentives, and parking
After last Thursday's marathon, today's City Council session (May 22) may seem like a mini-vacation. Last week, Council took on ridesharing (still trying to figure out how best to enable and regulate it), did what they could about SH 45 (in the wee hours, looking for last-ditch ways either to block it or make it environmentally safer – see "Then There's This," p.14), and in the headline donnybrook, returned to the long-troubled question of hiring at the Austin Fire Department (see Point Austin: "Fixing What Ain't Broke," p.13). None of those issues will be resolved anytime soon, but this week's agenda looks a little less onerous.
There will be at least a few hot-button items, notably the return of vested ("grandfathered") development rights for (in theory) second and third readings (Item 59). The public hearing is closed, but at Tuesday's work session Council Member Laura Morrison proposed several amendments that would serve to tighten the regulations governing Managed Growth Agreements, especially those which arrive at Council without staff or Planning Commission recommendations. It's not clear that Morrison has the votes, but the dais-only discussion should be interesting.
Also arriving are a couple of economic incentive packages, these for tech firms Spansion and Flextronics. The funding involved is state forgiveness on sales taxes, via the Texas Enterprise Fund, and Austin's role is to designate the firms as "Texas Enterprise Zone" projects, the local imprimatur for the state program. Although no city money would be garnished and the Items (5 & 6) are nominally on the consent agenda, they're unlikely to proceed without at least some Sturm und Drang about the state's (i.e., Gov. Rick Perry's) economic priorities.
The morning briefings – normally updates of work-in-progress – generally raise few eyebrows, but today's might be an exception, as the Project Connect Team will report on the status of its urban rail proposal, rapidly nearing the end lines of Capital Metro and City Council approval and presumably a bond-ballot design for November. They've gotten to the proposed corridor draft (see "Three Routes Mulled for CCAG"), and are addressing financing and governance, but there's still much debate over the details, and expect at least some of that debate to air during the meeting.
If all that proceeds as planned, a brace of resolutions offered by Council Member Chris Riley might seem unobjectionable, at least at the resolution stage. He's got a couple of things working on parking programs (Item 42 on a Mueller neighborhood parking management district; Item 43 on a residential parking permit program during "high-impact events" like festivals and construction), and a "climate resiliency" proposal (Item 48) that would work climate response strategies into this year's budget planning.
The listed public hearings are on the much-delayed and recently controversial Festival Beach/Fiesta Gardens Park Master Plan and on a proposal to permit and regulate "mobile retail sales" – a trailer for every wide spot in the road! Early word was that the Festival Beach plan is still not quite soup, and at staff request will likely be postponed once again.
There will be plenty of other dishes on the menu, not to mention that it's Take Heart Day, National Safety Month, and Stroke Awareness Month – so no matter what happens, we're covered. The musical honoree is the Brown Recluse himself, legendary Tejano King Manuel "Cowboy" Donley. Long may he reign.