The featured speaker at the meeting was Deborah Thomas, Division Chief over Land Use and Real Estate, COA Legal Department. She was accompanied by First Assistant City Attorney Karen Kennard. The talked about the organization of the law department and duties of the various divisions. Divisions include Austin Energy, Financial, Real Estate and Land Use, Employment, Municipal Operations, Affirmative Litigation, Defensive Litigation and Criminal Prosecution. A question which was raised by not answered is whether Neighborhood Planning Contact Teams are city agencies. The NPCT in the University Hills area has been sued individually and collectively by a resident who is unhappy with an action of the NPCT.
Natasha Rosofsky, Executive Director of an organization called Avance (Spanish for “to advance”) spoke about the program which is designed to help parents of children from birth to age 3 learn ways to help prepare the children for success in school. Classes meet weekly for months. Children enjoy an early childhood program while parents attend classes in nutrition, ESL if needed, toy making and other skills that they can implement in the home to help the children be prepared for school. There are currently 10 sites in the Austin area and 35 in Texas. Sites in Austin include ones in the Govalle, Del Valle, St. Johns, and Montopolis areas.
Two resolutions were presented, discussed and voted upon. Both carried. The first asked that the COA Land Development Code be amended to adopt the letter and intent of the Residential Remodel Ordinance proposed by the Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee of the Planning Commission on April 20, 2010. The intent behind the ordinance is to prevent the tear down of older homes except for one wall or less and then claiming that the structure is being remodeled, thus avoiding having to meet current ordinances on setbacks, design, and other permitting requirements.
The second resolution dealt with the authorities and liabilities of neighborhood plan contact teams. Recently questions have arisen about the potential liability of NPCTs and the individual participants on the teams. The city council is being asked “to clearly define the authority of NPCTs, including provisions for team members representation in any litigation arising from their actions, decisions and initiatives arising from participation in city-sanctioned neighborhood planning processes” Because there is concern that members of NPCTs could be individually liable for damages some teams may temporarily cease functioning until this issue is resolved and clarification has been received..
l COA Neighborhood habitat challenge – encourage neighborhoods to develop wildlife habitats and participate in a national program.
l COA comprehensive plan – plan is moving into next phase
l Downtown development plan and density bonuses – encourages builders to build bigger buildings and to provide money for affordable housing. Discussion of whether plan is realistic as to value received, who gains, and what is the cost benefit.
l Reactivating building permits – concerns that permits are allowed to languish as codes change and then are reactivated and not required to meet current codes. An ordinance change on this issued was stopped by Council Member Morrison.