The following is quoted from a communication received today through the Development Committee and is quoted for information and possible action:
“Wake up, you’re about to be overrun by zombies. Seriously.
This note describes this very serious situation, how it affects you and Austin, and what you can do to help. Please take 2 minutes to read this, take action and then spread the word.
Here’s the problem:
There’s a huge fight coming this Thursday at city hall. The city council is poised to repeal the city’s rules regarding “project duration,” which means the time frame in which a development project has to be completed. This may not sound very serious, but the effects will be devastating.
Let’s cut to the chase and list what that means:
To put it plainly, if our city council votes to repeal our “project duration” ordinance, here is some of what will happen:
The Heritage Tree Ordinance that saves big, old trees from developer’s chainsaws would be cut-down and shredded.
The McMansion Ordinance that preserves the character of neighborhoods by limiting home sizes would be bull dozed.
Great Streets Programs, which help create wide sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly areas would be told to take a hike.
Water Quality Protection Measures? Barton Springs and Austin creeks all dried up.
Historic Preservation? A thing of the past.
Town Lake Corridor Protections that limit growth along the lakeshore? Washed away.
Park and community green Space Requirements? Paved over.
Neighborhood Plans? Vacated.
Affordable housing? We have no room for you.
The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which is supposed to guide our future growth? It will be replaced by a much worse nightmare that we could call the Imagine Houston Replication Plan.
We’re not kidding around about how important this is. We are facing a dead serious public policy disaster.
How can this happen, you ask?
In simple terms: right now, if you want to build something, you have to get it done in 3 years if you are in the Barton Springs Aquifer zone and within 5 years elsewhere in the city. This time limit to build is the Project Duration. If nothing is being built and no effort is being made to develop a project, your permits expire.
We do this so developments will follow our building codes and ordinances as they naturally improve over time due to better science and technology, and as our community standards evolve regarding environmental preservation, sustaining neighborhoods and more.
Another way to look at it is with automotive manufacturing. Cars that have been made for decades, like the Honda Civic, must now adhere to current regulations for airbags, anti-lock brakes, fuel economy, and emissions. Honda cannot build a Civic today the way they did in 1982.
In all, this helps us manage our growth.
Austin has a “project-by-project” review process that has been successfully used to adjust expiration dates where there is a clear hardship or other circumstances. This careful, case-by-case review should continue.
But now, the big developers want to throw out the “project duration” ordinance they agreed to back in 1999, so they can revive long-expired permits and build under the old ordinance that existed when the project expired—and remove all of the careful restrictions we have fought so hard to put in place. This is the wrong direction for Austin just as we are looking forward to better managing our city’s growth.
Why do they want to throw this out?
Three months ago, Texas’ Attorney General issued a hasty, non-binding opinion that declares our rules regarding project duration — that our city adopted in 1997 and have never been legally challenged — are now maybe kinda sorta possibly in conflict with state law.
But according to Travis County, our rules are legal: http://bit.ly/traviscountylegalopinion.
But according to the city of Austin, our rules are legal: http://bit.ly/austinslegalopinion
There’s no legal challenge. The Attorney General’s “opinion” does not require us to do anything.
Our city council must not do this without a better understanding of the impact such a repeal will have.
If “project duration” is repealed, the impact will be destructive.
Essentially every code change we have adopted to better our city since the early 1990s would not apply to hundreds of projects that were never built—and those once dead projects could now be brought back to life.
Unless we – including you – take action today, the Austin City Council will take this “emergency” action on Thursday. Then development proposals that expired under current ordinances would spring back to life as “zombie projects” subject only to old, dead ordinances from 10, 20 or 30 years ago…not the current city ordinances of today.
How many old dead projects are out there? The city staff failed to inventory these projects, so we don’t know where or how many zombie projects would be revived or what their effects would be to neighborhoods, schools, traffic, or the environment. It is safe to assume that there are hundreds of potential rogue projects.
We should know before we take any action.
Throwing out the Project Duration Ordinance is very bad public policy.
Real Estate Council of Austin, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and environmental groups agreed to the “project duration” ordinance in 1999. It was a good compromise and has created a fair and balanced approach to development since then. It was an agreement between those who want to build stuff everywhere without restriction and people who want to preserve Austin’s environment and neighborhoods as much as possible as we grow and change. (Admittedly, it was a delicate peace, but if Project Duration is discarded, it will open all the wounds and renew past arguments on how best to keep Austin Austin.)
Here’s the funny/not-so-funny part.
Everything great about Austin’s character and environment is what has made the city a shining destination for families, businesses and even tourists.
By repealing Project Duration, we could lose all of that because some developers feel like Austin — one of the fastest growing cities in the country — isn’t growing fast enough and they want to be able to resurrect their old plans just to make more profit off of Austin’s strong economy.
Let’s not kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This proposal is a giant leap backwards and Austin deserves better.
We can stop the proposed zombie development ordinance by calling and emailing City Council members RIGHT NOW. You can send them all an email using this link: http://bit.ly/emailtoall
You can also attend the Austin City Council meeting this Thursday. See the agenda here: http://bit.ly/3212013councilagenda. This is Item 22 on Thursday’s City Council Agenda. Sign up to speak in opposition to the repeal of the ordinance regarding “project duration.”
Here is what else you can do:
1. Please join our effort today to save “project duration.”
2. Call or email City Council and respectfully urge them to oppose the rush to throw out City ordinances that expire development permits and projects after a reasonable period of time. You can send them all an email by using this link: http://bit.ly/emailtoall.
3. Find out more about this issue at the Save Our Springs Alliance website: http://bit.ly/sosprojectduration and on the Austin Neighborhoods Council website: http://bit.ly/ancprojectduration.
4. Come to our press conference at city hall on Wednesday at noon. We need people from all parts of Austin and from every organization to come just like we did when we stopped the effort to let lobbyists sit on the committee to oversee the rewrite of our city’s land development code.
5. Use your phone. This is no time for just emails and Facebook posts to get the word out. We need everyone to call everyone to take action.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
We have city policies now regarding development that work and they are legal. There is no reason to throw out the ordinance regarding “project duration.”
Don’t let the zombies rise up and dominate the next 20 years of development without having to adhere to our current, vital rules.
We must manage our growth and protect all that is special about Austin. Please join our effort today and take action to save Project Duration.”