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What’s Next After Austin Repealed its Project Duration Ordinance?

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.

The move came after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion that Austin’s ordinance was in conflict with state law. Partially in response to citizen protest that the city was rushing forward the repeal on an “emergency” basis, the council solicited legal council from outside the city.

Casey Dobson is with law firm of Scott, Douglas, and McConnico. Following a lengthy, closed-door consultation with the council that afternoon, Dobson suggested the council repeal the law. But he also suggested the council immediately convene his firm and city counsel in drafting “a new ordinance regarding permit and project expiration, consistent with Texas local government code.”

In conversation with council member Chris Riley, Dobson suggested a replacement ordinance could be ready for consideration in roughly a month.

Just how many “zombie projects” disallowed under the Project Duration Ordinance could stagger back to life? Agenda backup information noted that over the past four and a half years, “a total of 802 requests have been submitted for project vesting. Of these, 267 were approved and 535 were denied.” But the letter added that “what portion of the denials were based on project duration or one of the other grounds that are frequently used to limit grandfathering.”

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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