Austin City Council

The Austin City Council voted 5-2 last night to repeal the city’s Project Duration Ordinance, rules limiting how long a development can remain “grandfathered” under land-use rules in place at the time of the project’s conception.

In contrast to last week’s hearing, which featured hours of citizen testimony, public input was closed this time. The council discussion lasted just 15 minutes. Council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voted no.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

The Austin City Council is experimenting with a plan to reduce the availability of parking. Today, it approved a pilot program discussed last meeting “to reduce parking requirements for commercial businesses utilizing trip-reduction strategies.”

Council member Laura Morrison said the program was designed “to work with businesses around town and do a pilot in terms of allowing a reduction in their parking if there are mobility friendly amenities added.”

They’re baaack!

With a relatively thin 57 items, the Austin City Council should make short work of this Thursday’s agenda. But rising, zombie-like, once more are several items the council’s dealt with before (albeit not with a slug to the head).

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Austin City Council has approved a study of public energy utilities governed by an independent board. But the city will have to work quickly.

The item comes as the council looks to create an independent governing board for Austin Energy. The council has traditionally overseen the utility, but that was before Austin Energy’s recent rate increase, which created political pressure that some feel could ultimately deregulate the city-run utility. Now a council majority appears supportive of handing off day-to-day operations.

KUT News

Update: The Austin City Council decided to delay their vote Thursday night, citing concerns that they did not have enough information.

City staff will return next week with a sampling of how many properties repealing the Project Duration Ordinance would affect. Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the only council member against the delay last night.

Original Story (March 20, 7:22 p.m.): Permits for building projects may lose their expiration dates, depending on a vote at Thursday’s City Council Meeting.

UW Green Futures Lab/Scan Design Foundation/Gehl Architects

The Austin City Council had parking on its mind today. And now Austin is one step closer to eliminating minimum parking requirements for many downtown businesses, and looking at a program could to lessen the number of cars entering downtown. 

Pilot Parking Program

The council heard a briefing on parking program encouraging businesses to reduce car commuting. The program could begin as soon as April, if the council approves a measure next week.

The City Council adopted the Downtown Austin Plan in late 2011. With it, the council OK’d what’s called the Downtown Density Bonus Program. It basically says that developers who want to build more densely than the standards allow would have to offer certain community benefits: things like on-site affordable housing or a paying into a fund for affordable housing elsewhere.

But nearly a year and a half later, Austin’s still waiting on specific guidelines for the Density Bonus Program.

There’s an old rule in Austin that the City Council will revisit Thursday.

A 1997 ordinance gives building permits an expiration date of between three and five years, regardless of whether the project has been completed or not. Oftentimes, builders need to re-apply for permits and adhere to any new construction rules. But, a recent opinion by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has moved the ordinance front and center at City Hall because Abbott says the ordinance contradicts state code.

When planning to book a public venue in Austin, keep in mind the city is going to charge a bunch of fees, some are for permits, maintenance and cleanup. Organizers of large and well-attended gatherings have no problem paying those fees. But non-profits sponsoring smaller events sometimes ask the city to waive them.

This week, the city council will vote on five such waivers. With so many of these smaller events taking place, what happens when fees are waived?

Art Alliance Austin/Creative Action and TBG/Dan Cheetham (Fyoog) and Michelle Tarsney

When you think about downtown Austin, do you ever think about the spaces between the buildings?

Probably not, and you're not alone. That’s may be because alleyways – in movies, and sometimes in real life – are usually shady, dirty and even dangerous places. But some local leaders want to bring the city’s alleys back into the light.

In an alley downtown, I met with Meredith Powell and Dan Cheetham. Powell is with the Art Alliance Austin. The alley, she says “was laid out in the original 1839 map by Edwin Waller and it is on Ninth Street between Brazos and Congress.”

National Instruments

Update: The Austin City Council voted 7-0 Thursday night to give National Instruments almost $1.7 million in incentives. In exchange, the company will expand and create at least 1,000 jobs . 

National Instruments representatives spoke at the council meeting Thursday night, outlining the benefits the city would see. But some local citizens were not convinced, claiming it is not fair to give large companies incentives but to not offer them to local citizens. They also claimed the money could be used elsewhere, something Mayor Lee Leffingwell contested:

"The fact is, if we didn't approve this agreement we couldn't spend that money somewhere else because it wouldn't be there," Leffingwell said. "This money comes from that agreement."

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

In a few days, downtown Austin will be overrun with crowds for South by Southwest – so why is the city practically doing away with downtown parking requirements?

“Many cities are reducing or eliminating their parking requirements as a means of reducing congestion,” argued Chris Riley, the Austin City Council’s resident transportation wonk. Coincidentally, he's the prime proponent of a measure deep-sixing most parking requirements downtown.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Update: You can now read the full letter HUD sent to its grantees around the country, including Austin. 

Original Post (12:05 p.m.): Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell says the federal spending cuts known as the sequester will have an effect on affordable housing in the city.

Mayor Leffingwell says he was notified of the cuts by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

The Austin City Council convenes this Thursday to a 78-item agenda. And one item – on first glance – might strike fear into the heart of even the most hardened council watcher: short-term rentals.

Or maybe not this time. In contrast to the council’s hard-fought first-round of rental regulation, the sponsors of Item 40 – the rental resolution – see it as more of a clean-up item. With the number of properties participating in the city’s rental registry painfully low, the measure creates new classes of rentals – like renting one room, instead of an entire dwelling – and creating fines for unlicensed rentals – up to $2,000 a day.

Police may begin impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers who offer rides for money – and that includes drivers using online apps like SideCar.

Item 30 on this week’s Austin City Council agenda would allow police to impound “a ground transportation service vehicle operated in violation” of the city code governing transportation franchise agreements, like the ones in place with Austin taxi companies.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

It isn’t everyday that citizens stay late into the evening to tell the Austin City Council what a good job it’s doing. But that was the case last week.

“You’ve guys have won awards – dozens and dozens and dozens of awards – for being the most innovative, green, efficient, well-managed, best customer satisfaction utility in the state of Texas,” environmentalist Tom “Smitty” Smith with Public Citizen told the council. “And you want to change this?”

Spencer Selvidge via Texas Tribune

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is considering a run for mayor of Austin and won’t seek another term in the Texas House, he said Wednesday.

“I genuinely have not decided whether to run for mayor — I can think of as many reasons not to do it as to do it,” he said. “Regardless, I have decided not to run for another term in the House. All good things must come to an end, and on a separate note, so must my time in the Texas House.”

KUT News

This summer, Austin will begin drawing its first city council districts.

The long slog towards geographic representation has been an uphill one: a fight to get the measure on the ballot, a hard-fought campaign and, once the measure was approved, fear an all-volunteer committee to draw council districts would fail to attract diverse and representative candidates. But with the help of the city auditor and community groups, the list of applicants has swelled from fewer than a hundred nearly two weeks ago to just under 250 at last count on Feb. 14.

Despite protests from some clean energy and consumer advocates, the Austin City Council voted unanimously last night to take to the first step towards creating a board of legal and energy experts to oversee Austin Energy. 

The resolution directs the city manager to develop the ordinance that will outline the dynamics of this board by March 21. While the board will oversee Austin Energy, city council will retain final approval of electric rates, transactions of more than $100 million and any board nominees.

Update: The council gave preliminary approval to an independent Austin Energy board Thursday night. You can read more here.

Original Post:The Austin City Council has made short work of today’s agenda, passing most items early.

One agenda item is still outstanding, and should create some sparks: a resolution calling for an independent governance board to oversee operations at Austin Energy.