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Council Delays Vote on Project Duration Ordinance (Update)

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.

The Austin City Council is set to vote on a repeal the Project Duration Ordinance, a city ordinance established in 1997 that gives building permits three or five year expiration dates depending on the zoning of the project. This vote is triggered by an opinion by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said the ordinance does not line up with state code.

But not everyone agrees with Abbott. 

At a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday, advocates and leaders from various organizations spoke against repealing the Project Duration Ordinance. Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said repealing this ordinance could have a negative impact on many aspects of Austin, ranging from watersheds to traffic.

“We’re literally talking about zombie development projects that could live forever under old, dead ordinances that did not manage growth,” Bunch said.

Bunch said the city council does not know how many expired projects or close to expired projects would suddenly bring “brought back to life.” Some of these projects may date back to the 1970s, Bunch said.

The Real Estate Council of Austin supports repealing the Project Duration Ordinance. In a statement, Nikelle Meade, president of the Council, said repealing the ordinance would lead to predictability in the development process.

“Thoughtful planning for quality, multi-phase projects requires stable municipal rules that do not change mid-stream,” Meade said.

But advocates against repealing the ordinance have also criticized Austin City Council for reacting too fast and declaring this vote an “emergency.”

“If I were to go over there and pull a fire alarm right now, I would be accused of a crime. I could be convicted of that crime and I should be convicted of that crime because it would be a false alarm, a false emergency,” said Roy Waley, vice chair of theAustin Sierra Club, “and that is what this is.”

Waley was also critical of state representatives from Austin who have been silent on this issue, including State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and State Rep. MarkStrama (D-Austin).

“Representative Mark Strama has said he may want to be our mayor someday,” Waley said. “Does he want to be the mayor of Austin or the mayor of future Houston?”

The City Council is set to vote on the issue Thursday.

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