Public Notice: LDC Developments
Suit set; ZAP zinger; ashes for ASH?
As Austin wakes to the new year, the Land Development Code rewrite process moves on in all its spastic glory:
• A Feb. 18 trial date has been set for the lawsuit against the city by citizens claiming a right to protest rezonings – thus requiring a three-fourths vote of the Council to rezone their property – even as part of an LDC rewrite. The trial will take place in a Travis County courthouse and is expected to take two days. The suit was filed Dec. 12 by the Gray & Becker law firm, whose Doug Becker issued a statement this week welcoming the fast track: "We believe that a quick answer to the legal issues raised in our lawsuit is in everyone's best interest. The outcome of the case depends upon the Court's legal interpretation of a few provisions of the Texas Local Government Code. The current uncertainty benefits no one."
• "Use It or Lose It" is a new video from longtime local filmmaker and teacher Steve Mims, highlighting the right to file a rezoning protest and encouraging people to do so. Clocking in at exactly one minute, it's short on nuance, but fun and to the point: youtu.be/GlojnyBcawo. See it soon; it may be obsolete by Feb. 19.
• The Zoning and Platting Commission held their first meeting of the year on Jan. 7 and, among other things, passed a unanimous resolution asking City Council to look at amending the sections of the LDC dealing with nonconforming uses in commercial zones. Which is something none of us have probably ever thought about, but according to a presentation prepared by Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa, many commercial establishments around town – Wheatsville Co-op, Lucy in Disguise on South Congress, Mi Madre's, and Joe's Bakery, to cite a few examples, along with many or most of the city's mortuaries, auto repair shops, and storage facilities – would be out of compliance with the proposed code. And this would put strict limits on improvements, expansions, and even repairs to the facilities. The resolution asking Council to act passed unanimously; one of the strongest voices for it was Bruce Evans, one of ZAP's more reliable pro-development commissioners, who said it was important information and "I'm afraid it'll never get heard outside of here."
By Wednesday afternoon, Development Officer Brent Lloyd had heard it, and hastened to reassure: "Except in a few instances, new regulations included in the proposed code revision wouldn't create nonconformities, and in no case would they render lawfully existing businesses in violation of code. Wheatsville Grocery, Lucy in Disguise, and most of the commercial uses mentioned would remain fully conforming. ... In cases where nonconformities do result, the proposed code wouldn't prevent existing businesses from continuing to operate or from making repairs/modifications." Kiolbassa, having just heard that response at press time, remains skeptical, wondering why then the existing "Safe Harbor" provision, guaranteeing that right to continue operating, was specifically removed from the new code. And there we must leave the story, for this week at least...
Austin State Hospital Open House: The Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Dell Medical School host an open house this Friday, Jan. 10, about the upcoming ASH construction, including a walking tour of the 15-acre building site (on the western side of the 95-acre campus). It's 2:30-4:30pm at ASH Bldg. 626 (Nifty Fifty diner), 4110 Guadalupe (and again at 3-5pm on Fri., Jan. 24). Officials will discuss "the hospital's history and the benefits for the community and the state," but Preservation Austin reps. will be there asking different questions: Why do the plans include "demolition of the many historic buildings on campus, including the only two surviving structures built for African American patients, [instead of taking] state and federal tax credits for historic preservation that could have been used to convert them into new and compatible uses"? And: "Was this site chosen because it would be easier to justify demolition of historic buildings for a desperately needed new facility in order to save areas with more open space and less significant buildings for future private, for-profit, commercial and residential redevelopment?" As you might expect, Preservation Texas has an online petition on the topic, with lots more info at www.preservationtexas.org/saveash.