Public Notice: Amnesty Now!
Council expected to tackle the issue of small-lot amnesty
When it's not all about Uber and Lyft down at City Hall, a good bit of it is about planning, density, and affordability. This is City Council's week to take on zoning cases, and with the TNC snarl apparently postponed to a special-called meeting Friday, Council can hunker down with the usual raft of individual cases, but also a number of somewhat vexing policy issues. Planned unit development (PUD) rules are back, for one thing; that was an ugly flash point the last time it came up (see "Council Brawls on PUDs: 'Everything Is Now a Backroom Deal'," Feb. 5; "Point Austin," at left; or "Put This in Your PUD and Smoke It!").
But if that scene's going to be repeated today, my guess is it will be on the relatively sleepy issue of small-lot amnesty. There are, scattered all over town, undersized lots, bits of land left over between other properties, large enough to feasibly build on, but too small to fit the definition of a legal lot in their current zoning. So an ordinance was proposed, designed, and vetted, to allow construction on such lots under special rules, which after a long process everyone was pretty much agreed on. But the rampaging density-at-all-costs warriors got hold of it, and proposed an "amendment" under which existing legal lots could be disaggregated, split into illegal lots, and then developed under the new rules. The economics of doing this, of course, ensure that nothing built in this manner would be "affordable" by just about any definition of the word, but proponents have trotted out the affordability banner nonetheless. City staff and neighborhood groups cried foul, arguing that the revision would essentially repeal lot size limits across the city, with unforeseen consequences and to the detriment of both local and long-range planning efforts. Late last month the Planning Commission batted around several permutations of the regs, but was unable to find a majority to pass any version. So it arrives like a turd bomb on Council's agenda as Item 57, tantalizingly close to the finish line, yet liable to inspire hours of impassioned public testimony. Expect Council to punt this as far downfield as they can, but meanwhile, the original, commonsense proposal regarding existing small lots, painstakingly worked out to everyone's satisfaction some time back, and still recommended by staff, gets punted along with it.
Updates From the "Year of Mobility"
Never fear: There are transportation issues aplenty to mull over, even apart from the TNC conundrum. The Austin Transportation Department began accepting Taxi Franchise applications this week, in order to pursue creation of a fourth taxi franchise in Austin. This is in response to City Council's direction to staff to create a process to establish a driver-owned taxi franchise, or co-op – "intended to give the taxi drivers more control of their work, rather than a corporate owner." ATD began accepting applications on Monday, and will continue through Monday, March 7. Applications must be submitted to the Office of the City Clerk at City Hall, 301 W. Second. See more info at www.austintexas.gov/taxicoop.
Nor are cars-for-hire the only major transportation iron in the fire. Mayor Steve Adler has raised the prospect of putting a transportation bond package on the November ballot; on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the city's Urban Transportation Commission adopted a resolution officially requesting that City Council "plan for and consider placing" a project involving "light rail and other high capacity transit investments" on the November ballot.
Meanwhile, Bike Austin and several partner organizations have announced a petition campaign calling on City Council to fully fund the Bicycle Master Plan and all high-priority sidewalks in the Sidewalk Master Plan in any transportation vote put forth this fall. That online petition can be found at ourstreets.bikeaustin.org.
The city of Austin will host an open house Tue., Feb. 16, 6:30-7:30pm, to present plans for a major expansion of the Austin Animal Center, including new adoption kennels, new visitation rooms, exercise and play yards, plus new roads, parking, storm drainage, etc. The meeting will be at the AAC, 7201 Levander Loop, in the multipurpose meeting room. The total "Design-Builder budget" is estimated at $5.9 million – partially from 2012 bond money and partially from the FY 2016 city budget – with construction to begin this fall, and be completed late in 2017. See the site plan at www.austintexas.gov/department/animal-services.
In the meantime, Austin Pets Alive! and the Austin Animal Center have instituted a pilot program that will provide extra enrichment, exercise, and interaction for dogs that have been at the City shelter the longest. The average length of stay for medium and large dogs is currently about 45 days. "At any given time," said Chief Animal Services Officer Tawny Hammond, AAC has "about 15 to 20 of ... what we call 'hidden gems' – great, loving, obedient family dogs that, through no fault of their own, have been passed over time and time again. Sometimes they wait for many months, even a year, and it's heartbreaking to see them looking hopefully, day after day, and never get chosen for adoption. Even getting one of these dogs a week out of the shelter and over to APA is a cause for celebration." APA offers playgroups, training, a chance to get adopted faster – and also sometimes foster homes, so the long-stay dogs can live in a home while they wait for a permanent family. And as always, both APA and AAC are looking for volunteers, and prospective foster homes, to keep their animals exercised and socialized. See www.austintexas.gov/department/volunteer for more info.
The city Parks & Recreation Department is early in the process of developing a plan for improvements at historic Wooldridge Square, one of Austin's original four Downtown parks, which sits on Guadalupe between 9th and 10th streets, between the Heman Marion Sweatt County Courthouse and the Austin History Center. This Wed., Feb. 17, 6:30-8pm, PARD will hold a first stakeholder and community engagement meeting to present project goals and a site analysis, and consider and take input on possible improvements and programming elements. See the project webpage at www.austintexas.gov/department/wooldridge-square-preliminary-plan. Austin Recreation Center, 1301 Shoal Creek Blvd.