Rodney Gonzalez, the newly appointed Acting Director of the Development Services Department came to speak about changes that are afoot with the Planning and Development Review Department. He spoke generally about management changes at the department but did not get into specifics of how this will affect neighborhood plans etc.
Kathie Tovo came speak on commercial property valuations (and the problem of why they are consistently undervalued). The City of Austin is suing the Travis County appraisal district in District Court about this. There is very little precedent for municipalities pursuing this kind of action. A big issue is that Texas is one of 5 states in the U.S. to not require sales data disclosure for commercial transactions. This is the biggest obstacle that would hopefully be addressed by the City’s actions against the appraisal district.
The Austin Neighborhoods Council Resolution against the MoPac South Expansion passed with a near unanimous vote. (SRCC voted in favor of this).
Scott Gross, a consulting engineer with the transportation department made a presentation called “Paying for Growth”. It outlined how transportation impact fees can be used to fund needed infrastructure improvements. Property taxes do not always keep up with the infrastructure costs needed to support growth. Taxes primarily fund operations and expenses, not capital investment in infrastructure. We currently just use bonds for infrastructure investment. Currently traffic impact analysis focuses on local traffic impacts (like the need to create turn lanes etc.) not systemwide impacts (like more people piling on to existing main arteries). Useful improvements could be to include systemwide impacts in analysis/estimation of fees as well as make them mandatory, not just guidelines. Fort Worth has successfully enacted a transportation impact fee.
State representative Donna Howard came to speak about education from a state legislature perspective. Texas is pay-as-you-go which means that you can only spend money in current revenues. There are also spending limits which restrict funding from comptroller. The legislature did restore some funding to public education after major cutbacks in 2008 but did not restore prior levels of funding to Austin. $175 million from Austin goes to other parts of the state. 31% of school districts (including Austin) aren’t getting the same funding they were getting in 2011. When property tax rates for education are lowered at the local level, the state has traditionally not filled the gap.
Proposed Resolution – PUD Ordinances
The proposed resolution is against Planned Unit Development (PUD) Ordinances. These ordinances grant larger developments variances so they do not have to comply with certain zoning, environmental and affordable housing restrictions. This resolution would request the City Council, as part of their review of PUD ordinances to:
- Prevent relaxation of zoning requirements vs. what was in place before PUD projects.
- Create transparency as to benefits provided to the public (e.g. public areas) vs. entitlements granted to the developer (e.g. height variances)
- Provide better environmental protections for these denser developments.