Archived Newsletters

sunday poolThis Thursday at 4:00 p.m. or later, the Austin City Council will hold a public hearing on proposed "Barton Springs Grounds Improvements."  This is Agenda Item 82.  Please attend and speak in favor of reducing impervious cover and preserving the south hill lawn.

View the staff backup information HERE by clicking on agenda item #82 and then the pdf supporting documents to the right.  View the site plans and presentation of the plan HERE. View the concerns and questions about the plan by SOS and others HERE If you cannot attend, send one email to council HERE.

We will post updates on our facebook page regarding actual starting time at 3pm. There is free parking under the city hall building. Please attend and voice your opinion on this construction to the pool area and amending the SOS Ordinance.

Sierra Club hosts Andrew Sansom on Tuesday

Tomorrow, Tuesday April 9th, at 7:00 pm at Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto, the Austin Group of the Sierra Club will host Andrew Sansom speaking on "Texas Water Crisis: We Can't Build Our Way Out of It." Sansom is one of Texas' leading conservationists, and former Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and of the Texas Nature Conservancy.Sansom is currently serving as Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University in San Marcos. For more info click HERE.

Also at City Council this Thursday

Item 45 proposes taking the next step to removing Austin Energy from direct supervision of City Council to an independent board.  Our friends in renewable energy and conservation are opposing the move as reducing accountability of Austin Energy to voters and ratepayers. Please join us in supporting them.  

Press Conference: Tuesday, April 9 * Noon * City Hall  

Public Hearing: Thursday, April 11 * City Council Chambers (Citizen gathering between 5-6 PM)
 
carbon footprint

Mark your calendars for these Earth Day week events!

April 21st  ~ SOS sponsors "Carbon Footprint." Earth Day event. See details HERE

April 24th, 7pm  ~ Screening of "The Unforeseen."at the Alamo Slaughter. Details to come. 

Please make a donation to SOS today...

We need your help to support our watchdog efforts that protect our local treasure - Barton Springs. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

 
 

pool3

Last night the Austin City Council voted 5-2, with Councilmembers Morrison and Tovo voting no, to repeal the City's so-called "project duration" ordinance. The repealed ordinance set reasonable expiration dates on development applications. Developers who failed to build within a number of years would be required to file new applications subject to current city standards. Not any more.

Prior to the vote, city staff had failed to sketch even a broad outline of what the proposed ordinance repeal would mean for our city. They admitted, however, that many hundreds of development projects that were expired by the project duration ordinance could spring back to life.   Very likely hundreds of others currently in process would be given eternal life under older, weaker standards by the ordinance repeal.  The action assures that these "zombie grandfather " developments will shape the future of Austin for decades - indeed forever.

Grandfathered, or "vested" projects, are exempt from meeting current development standards and allowed to go forward under older, weaker standards that do not protect neighborhoods, water quality, water supplies, parks, traffic flow, or heritage trees to the same extent current standards do.

The Council majority, on motion by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, did vote to remove one part of the repealer ordinance.   Like the part that was passed, the real world effects of the zombie grandfather ordinance can only be guessed at for now.

Council took the action, passed on all three readings, under threats of lawsuits and renewed "Austin bashing" legislation. However, the action provides little protection on either front since the action was unilateral. Developers now have a clear road map for avoiding compliance with current standards (or those adopted in the future).

When the daily headlines tell us we need stronger, not weaker, standards to protect our water, air, and wildlife; to manage traffic and growth, our elected officials are running in the opposite direction. Stink globally; stink locally.

The worst zombie grandfathers will arise from the ashes of the great Savings & Loan deregulation boom of the 1980s.   At that time vast swaths of Travis County were hastily sketched out on "preliminary" development plans filed with Austin, Travis County, and other local jurisdictions.   There was no real market for this speculative boom, but it was a highly effective means of extracting large sums of development "loans" from the deregulated S&Ls and banks.   The S&Ls and banks crashed; the development schemes died with them; the money disappeared; and taxpayers paid the tab. But now the long ago failed development schemes arise from the dead.

More recent development proposals from the 90s and early 00s will also seek to avoid compliance with current standards, including the McMansion, water front overlay, and heritage tree ordinances.

There is one silver lining: city lawyers insist they have a plan to prevent the bulk of zombie grandfathers from plaguing our fair city. They didn't say what it was, but we are supposed to see it within a month or six weeks. We hope they are right, but don't hold your breath.

We do still have tools to manage growth, though they are now significantly diminished. Active, informed citizens can put the spotlight on the worst developments while embracing the best ones. Our leaders have failed us. But, as always, when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

We extend our gratitude to council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo for their courage and leadership. We also thank all of the many hundreds of citizens who wrote and called councilmembers and attended council hearings. The leaders of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, especially Jason Meeker, Carol Lee, Mary Ingle, Jeff Jack, Peggy Maceo, and Joyce Basciano did an amazing job of spreading the word across the city.

We hope to see you this weekend at Barton Springs, which reopens for swimming tomorrow, Saturday morning, after being closed for several months for major repairs.

Please make a donation to SOS today...

We need your help to support our watchdog efforts that protect our local treasure - Barton Springs. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

JUST SAY "NO, THANK YOU" TO ZOMBIE GRANDFATHERS

Tomorrow the Austin City Council will again consider a city staff proposal to repeal Austin's ordinances that set reasonable expiration dates on development permits and projects. Late last night the City Staff released a list of 1700 development applications that could be affected by the proposed changes, resulting in projects previously expired being revived to go forward under older, weaker environment and neighborhood protection standards.

TODAY or THIS EVENING please email and/or call Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Councilmember Chris Riley and urge them to say "No, Thank you to the zombie grandfather ordinance." Urge them to slow down (there is no emergency of any kind) and to gather all the information they need to evaluate their options under state law.

In no case should the city simply give away its powers to expire development applications after a reasonable number of years so that new development must meet current standards. Without this power, it will be impossible for the City to implement the Imagine Austin plan or otherwise implement updated development standards.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
974-2266

Councilmember Chris Riley
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
974-6023

Mayor Pro Tem Cole and Councilmember Riley are both lawyers. They should take the lead in making sure the City does not take such a drastic action -- one that can never be reversed once done. The City has retained outside attorneys for a fresh look at all of the issues, and those attorneys, the council, and the general public should be given additional time to figure out the best course of action.  Again, there is simply no emergency of any kind that would justify such a major decision with so little information or informed input from the community.

Last week the City Council closed the public hearing, so concerned citizens will not be allowed to speak. Please come to City Hall to observe and show your opposition to the zombie grandfather ordinance or you can watch the live stream of the City Council meeting online HERE.

south hillATTEND BRIEFING PRESENTATION OF CHANGES TO BARTON SPRINGS POOL TOMORROW MORNING AT 10:30  

On March 7th, City Council voted to move a public hearing from March 28th to April 11th to consider staff's recommendation to amend the Save Our Springs Ordinance and grant variances to the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance to allow construction at Barton Springs Pool. 

SOS Alliance and many concerned citizens urged the Council to step back and take a more holistic approach to the many issues raised by citizens and the Boards and Commissions.  The Council requested  that City Staff submit a revised plan, clearly incorporating revisions and recommendations made by boards and commissions. This new plan will be presented in a briefing at 10:30 am tomorrow morning.  We will post these plans on our website as soon as they are available today for review before the briefing tomorrow.   

Please make a donation to SOS today...

We need your help to support our watchdog efforts that protect our local treasure - Barton Springs. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS. Click here to donate online.

Late last night, after four hours of citizen comment and public discussion, the Austin City Council voted to postpone action on a proposed repeal of its ordinances that expire development approvals (known as "project duration"). Only Mayor Lee Leffingwell voted against the one week postponement.

You can send a "thank you" message to council HERE. We especially thank Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Councilmembers Spelman, Morrison, Tovo, Riley and Martinez for doing the right thing. Once our expiration dates are repealed, we can never get them back. One week for further study is not enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

Mayor Leffingwell sought to confuse the issue by insisting the proposed repeal would not affect the Save Our Springs ordinance. The truth is that it would affect what development must comply with the SOS ordinance. Staff research suggested this could be many thousands of acres of development.

Here's a more detailed summary of last night and what is at stake. We will have more on "what you can do" early next week.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The zombie threat is real.  Under questioning from council, City Staff confirmed that the proposed repeal could revive potentially hundreds of development "projects" that would have been expired under current or previous ordinances. They also confirmed they have no idea how many, where, or what the impacts of these "zombie projects" may be on our city's water, roads, parks, schools, or existing neighborhoods.

Confusing legal debate dominated the evening. Lawyers for the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) insist that state law prohibits cities and counties from adopting ordinances that expire development projects. They insist this really isn't as absurd as it sounds because under state law old projects must demonstrate "progress towards completion" to remain alive.

Only near the end, in questions from Councilmember Kathie Tovo, did discussion hint at the full implications of this legal position. And it was only a hint.

"Progress towards completion" is defined to include any "good-faith attempt [] to file with a [city or county] an application for a permit necessary to begin or continue" a development project. LGC Section 245.005(c) In other words, merely attempting to file an application could prevent a project from ever being terminated and exempts a project from current regulations forever. Only plumbing, electrical, fire and a few other development standards are exempt from this "freezing" of regulations at the time the "first application" is filed.

Thus, the "progress towards completion" standard is arguably met even if no actual "progress towards completion" can be shown (as those words are commonly understood in the English language).

Repeal of project duration would also have a devastating effect on the city being able to impose new ordinances on new projects.  For example, new watershed protection ordinances for East Austin and new ordinances to implement the Imagine Austin plan could be completely nullified if landowners simply file some sort of application before the ordinances are adopted. Conversely, developers would be allowed to "cherry pick" any ordinance changes that increased development rights. If project duration standards are repealed, you can expect wholesale filing of such applications so as to "lock in" perpetual grandfathering, rendering these future ordinances largely meaningless.  

The stakes are very high, not just for Austin but for every city and county in Texas. The right to enforce reasonable city and county expiration dates on development proposals is essential to managing growth, especially in rapidly growing cities like Austin. This right of cities and counties to enforce reasonable expiration dates is a right worth fighting for. And our elected officials have a duty to stand up and defend our local control powers.

Stay tuned. The next week will be interesting.

Please make a donation to SOS today...

We need your help in 2013 to support our watchdog efforts that protect our local natural treasures. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

austinThere are turning points in the life of every city.

One of those is set for tomorrow (Thursday) at Austin City Hall. 

Be a part of history. With your help we can save our city from the radical extremist demands of the Austin Real Estate Council.

Come down to City Hall before 10:00 a.m. and sign up to speak "against" Item 22 on the Austin City Council agenda. The item may be delayed until later in the day or evening, but for now is set for in the morning.   

Read the SOS Alliance letter to City Council HERE.  

You don't have to be a lawyer or city planner to understand what is at stake. 

Read the Statesman story on this controversy HERE.

If you cannot come to City Hall contact city council members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley by telephone and email from now until this item is voted on some time Thursday.

Bill Spelman: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 974-2256

Chris Riley: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 974-6023

You can watch the live stream of the City Council meeting online HERE

Have your voice heard. Protect our city from zombie development schemes from the last century. Responsible developers will meet and beat current city standards necessary to build a great city. The rest should go trash some other city.

The only way to sustain our City is to protect our water, families, and neighborhoods while we grow.  Irresponsible demands that we do anything less should be summarily rejected.

pressconf

Press Conference held today with local leaders to oppose repeal of "Project Duration"

Please take 2 minutes to read this, take action and then spread the word. If we don't act now - zombie developments will rise up all around Austin for decades into the future, clogging our streets and neighborhoods, polluting our water, and threatening our homes, families, and businesses.

Here's the problem:

There's a huge fight tomorrow, this Thursday, at city hall. The city council is poised to repeal the city's rules regarding "project duration," which means the timeframe in which a development project has to be completed before it expires and then must meet current development standards. This may not sound very serious, but the effects will be devastating. Otherwise expired or soon-to-be expired projects will be resurrected from the dead and live forever, going forward for decades into the future under older, weaker development standards.

Who is trying to do this to our city and why?

The Real Estate Council of Austin is leading the charge to repeal the "project duration" ordinance that they explicitly agreed to in 1999. They want to retrade a compromise agreement that the Real Estate Council, by formal vote of its members, agreed as a fair and legal compromise 14 years ago. And they are urging council to do this on an "emergency" basis before anyone knows what is up and with zero accounting of how many projects, of what kind, and where would be resurrected from the dead or extended indefinitely into the future.

It would be supremely irresponsible of Council Members to support this proposal without full disclosure of what land and development is affected and without a similar "task force" process that led to the original ordinance, wherein the RECA, the Chamber of Commerce, SOS Alliance, and SBCA all agreed on the length of terms for grandfathering development permits and projects from updated, current city development standards.

Let's cut to the chase and list what this would mean for Austin:

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 bulldozed.

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 lake shore?  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.

With your voice we can stop this terrible proposal.

Come down to the City Council meeting tomorrow morning and sign up to speak "Against" Item 22 on the council agenda. If you cannot be there by 10:00, please come as soon as possible, or watch your email for updates. Or send a quick, single message to all of the City Council HERE urging them to reject the proposal until there is both a task force process involving all stakeholders and a full inventory of the land and development affected by the proposal.

Thank you for helping Save Our Springs!! Eternal vigilance is our only plan.

Please make a donation to SOS today...

We need your help in 2013 to support our watchdog efforts that protect our local treasure - Barton Springs. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

Punch yourself in the face right now!! If you don't, State Representative Paul Workman and the Texas Legislature might punch you in the face next month.

That's what City Staff is telling the Austin City Council in order to force through a sweeping development grandfathering ordinance at this Thursday's City Council meeting.

But we can stop this foolishness by emailing council NOW and showing up in person at City Hall this Thursday to speak out on Item 22 on the City Council's agenda.

Staff is urging City Council to adopt an "emergency" grandfathering ordinance or else, they threaten, the Texas Legislature might pass legislation introduced by State Representative Paul Workman (from southwest Travis County) that would gut local control powers of Austin and other cities.

In other words, let's gut our local control powers first with some remote hope that the legislature won't do it to us later. But even if we punch ourselves first, there is zero guarantee that Representative Workman and the Legislature won't continue attacking Austin and other cities' local powers to manage growth until the final bell rings on this year's legislative session.

With your help today, tomorrow, and Thursday at City Council we can prevent this terrible action.

Given the urgency of this issue, we will be communicating once each day this week. Each email will contain additional background information on this critical issue. But most important: come to City Hall Thursday at 10:00 a.m. if at all possible. Enjoy free parking in the City Hall parking garage (entry on Lavaca between Cesar Chavez and Second Street).

Here is some more background:

Every session developer interests threaten "Austin bashing" legislation - legislation that would further restrict our ability to manage growth and protect neighborhoods and the environment. Texas already has some of the most draconian laws that tie the hands of cities to manage growth. But it's never enough.

This session is no different. State Representative Paul Workman, R-Travis County, has introduced a raft of bills that would gut City powers to manage development and protect watersheds, including the Barton Springs watershed. Representative Workman did not run on a platform of attacking home rule city powers. If his constituents knew he was trying to throw open western Travis County and the entirety of the State of Texas to the lowest possible development standards, we doubt he would he would pursue this agenda.   We are working to make sure they find out . (If you live in Representative Workman's district, call him right now at 463-0652, and tell him to drop his attacks on home rule city powers and watershed protection: please do NOT call Representative Workman if you do not live in his district; rather tell your friends who do live in his district to call him.)

Besides the legislative threat, City Staff is pointing to a  recent Attorney General opinion as a basis for urging the repeal of Austin development expiration rules. But this AG opinion is poorly reasoned and disputed by the City of Austin's own attorney, by assistant Travis County attorney Tom Nuckols, and by attorneys representing other cities and neighborhood and environmental groups. Read these legal opinions linked above.

Please join SOS Alliance, the Austin Group of the Sierra Club, the Austin Neighborhoods Council and a growing list of groups to oppose the zombie projects ordinance at this Thursday's council meeting. 

Please make a donation to SOS today...

We need your help in 2013 to keep our local treasure flowing clear and clean for all of us. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

Item 22 on this Thursday, March 21st, Austin City Council agenda calls for a measure pushed hard by the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), to completely eliminate Austin's project duration ordinances. The elimination of project termination measures will have a major impact on land use within Austin, an impact whose entire scope and breadth is not even known at this moment.

We need your help starting now through Thursday to avert this major attack on Austin's ability to manage growth and protect neighborhoods and the environment. Please plan to attend Thursday's council meeting, if at all possible. Arrive before 10:00 a.m. and plan to stay for as long as you are able.

Before then 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 contact all of them with one email HERE.

Urge them to refrain from any vote on staff's request to repeal our project expiration ordinances without a full accounting of exactly where, how many, and what kind of "zombie projects "would be revived from being expired under current procedures.

We will be posting more information on this very soon, so please stay tuned. This is an extremely important issue for protecting what we love most about Austin, including Barton Springs. Here is a short summary:

The "project duration ordinance" is one of only two methods the City has to limit the scope of Chapter 245, the state statute that grandfathers development projects to the ordinances and law that was in place at the time an original application for the project was filed. Unknown hundreds of development projects that had been immune from current City regulations are now expired due to the operation of the project duration ordinance. If the ordinance is abolished, these projects will be revived like zombies and will not have to be built out in compliance with existing law.

What this means is that many if not all of these hundreds of projects will never have to comply with the Heritage Tree Ordinance, the McMansion ordinance, any new zoning classification, great streets requirements, the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the latest water quality protection measures, or any zoning measures including historic preservation measures or Town Lake Corridor protections that affect lot coverage, building sizes, and lot sizes, open space regulations, park dedication requirements, etc.

City staff is complaining that a legal opinion by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott requires the City to abandon its project duration ordinance. This is not true on any level. Such opinions are only advisory. They are not binding on anyone including the courts. Moreover, the city has already taken steps to comply with state law where there is any conflict with the state grandfathering statute (known as Chapter 245).

Wholesale abandoning of our expiration ordinances is a drastic action that will cripple our ability to manage growth and protect what is special about Austin. Doing so without a full inventory of the number, location, and type of projects that would be grandfathered back to old standards would be irresponsible. The City has a "project-by-project" review process that has been successfully used to consider grandfather claims under state law and adjust expiration dates where there is hardship or other circumstances. This careful, case-by-case review should continue.

If you are not a member of SOS, you can join today for as little as $15!

We need your help in 2013 to keep our local treasure flowing clear and clean for all of us. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

pool aerial2Yesterday, Thursday, March 7th, City Council voted to move a public hearing from March 28th to April 11th to consider staff's recommendation to amend the Save Our Springs Ordinance and grant variances to the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance to allow construction at Barton Springs Pool. 

SOS Alliance and many concerned citizens urged the Council to not set the hearing for the proposed March 28th date but to step back and take a more holistic approach to the many issues raised by the Boards and Commissions, especially the Planning Commission (read their recommendations HERE) as well as asking for a cultural impact analyses as described in a letter given to Council READ IT HERE.

The council set the hearing for April 11th  and requested  that City Staff submit a revised plan, clearly incorporating all the revisions and recommendations made by boards and commissions. This new plan will be presented in a briefing held on March 21st or 28th.

You can watch the video recording of the speakers at http://austintx.swagit.com/play/03072013-513. To see the noon citizen's communication click on citizen communication and to see the evening speakers click on Item #40.  The noon speakers signed up in advance of the meeting in order to have the item moved out of the consent agenda and the evening speakers spoke to the item which was not heard until after 9pm.

Thanks to all who participated and to the Council for hearing our concerns and postponing the hearing.  We will keep you updated and informed on actions you can take in the next few weeks on this important issue. 

If you are not a member of SOS, you can join today for as little as $15!

We need your help in 2013 to keep our local treasure flowing clear and clean for all of us. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.

On Tuesday night, The Planning Commission voted 5-2 to deny staff's recommendation to amend the Save Our Springs Ordinance and grant variances to the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance to allow construction at Barton Springs Pool.

Commissioner James Nortey made the motion to deny to allow time for staff to look at issues they have with the plan and to consider the following:

     • Removing the South Overlook Trail;
     • Installing a pervious / porous ADA path;
     • Increasing bicycle parking by a minimum of 50% on the south side;
     • Reconfiguring the pedestrian path that runs perpendicular to Robert E. Lee Road to avoid routing pedestrians through the middle of the South parking lot;
     • Evaluating the idea of a shuttle system and other multi-modal alternatives to vehicular parking on-site;
     • Preparing a cost-benefit analysis of re-arranging / offsetting parking on the South side to minimize impervious cover in the Water Quality Transition Zone ("WQTZ"); and
     • Reducing total impervious cover and not increasing impervious cover in the WQTZ.

You can read the Memorandum from Commissioner Nortey to Liz Johnston, Planning and Development Review Department HERE.

Commissioners James Nortey, Danette Chimenti, Richard Hatfield, Stephen Oliver and Alfonso Hernandez voted for the motion. Chair Dave Anderson and Commissioner Myron Smith voted against and Commissioner Brian Roark was absent.

This was the last stop before the grounds plan goes before City Council at a hearing scheduled for Thursday, March 28th. Please mark your calendar and plan to attend this meeting.

Our voices are now being heard. We need the City Council to hear directly that the development on the south side of Barton Springs should be reduced significantly, vegetated park areas should be expanded, bicycle, pedestrian and public transit access should be greatly expanded. We need a plan that inspires and guides preservation of Barton Springs. We need a great plan for the springs, not one that is simply "not as bad as before."

You can email a thank you to the Commissioners who took this step in the right direction for Barton Springs by clicking  HERE.

If you are not a member of SOS, you can join today for as little as $15!

We need your help in 2013 to keep our local treasure flowing clear and clean for all of us. If you are able, please make a  tax-deductible donation or a monthly pledge to SOS.  Click here to donate online.