June 12, 2019

2018 Advocacy Wins

  1. City of Austin International Wildland Urban Interface Code: As a result of the devastating wildfires that ravaged the country in 2018, the Austin Fire Department proposed that the city adopt a new building code, the International Wildland Urban Interface Code (WUI) to better prepare Austin for potential wildfires.  The draft building code contained a number of problematic regulations that would add unnecessary complexity and cost to the construction of a home.  The code called for an additional map overlay, additional plan reviews, and most importantly, rigid construction methods and material requirements that would have added costs upwards of $80,000 per home.  The HBA engaged with AFD early with the goal of working together to address the departments safety concerns without sacrificing affordability.
  2. City of Round Rock Roadway Impact Fees: In June of 2018, the City of Round Rock’s Transportation Department brought forward a plan to implement roadway impact fees on all new lots to pay for the impact new development will have on the city’s roads. The proposed plan allowed for up to a $10,000 impact fee per lot to be placed on all new development within the city limits. In some instances, this fee would be an increase of 1000% over the city’s existing transportation impact analysis fee scale.  By demonstrating the effect this ordinance would have on existing projects, with the potential to add millions of dollars in fees, the HBA was able to show the real-world impact that it would have on Round Rock residents.  In November, the council voted down the ordinance as proposed and directed staff to scale back the proposal substantially, with lower fees and longer implementation dates.
  3. Bastrop County Flood Damage Prevention Order: As a result of increased rainfall in the area, Bastrop County is looking for ways to help mitigate the increased flood risks.  In May of 2018, the HBA to participate on a committee to review the county’s flood damage prevention ordinance.  There were many suggested revisions to the ordinance, including requiring hydrology studies on individual lots and altering permitting standards for flood prone areas.  However, the HBA was able to steer the committee away from these costly suggestions and towards a more reasonable approach to flood mitigation, including increasing the freeboard elevation, providing tools to protect locally determined flood prone areas, and reinforcing existing state laws at the county level. The final draft is expected to go before the county commissioners court in 2019.
  4. City of Austin Demolition Permits and Impact Fees: At the end of 2017, Austin City Council passed a resolution directing staff to review the demolition permitting process, citing concerns that the process was ineffective.  Over the course of 2018, the HBA has worked closely with the city’s Development Services Department to help draft a 134-page final report on the demolition process.  Throughout the process, several neighborhood stakeholder groups pushed for increased notification requirements, arbitrary delays before obtaining a permit, lead and asbestos regulations that exceed state requirements, and the creation of an appeals process before a permit is issued.  However, the HBA was successful in pushing back on these burdensome regulations, none of which were recommended in the final report.
  5. City of Kyle Municipal Utility Easements: In February of 2018, a number of developers were experiencing difficulty building encroachments into public utility easements on the side of their lots.  Since these easements are publicly owned, the city did not have the authority to grant an exception to build in the easement.  In order to give the city flexibility to allow for building encroachments, staff proposed an ordinance that would give the city the authority over the easements, redefining them as municipal utility easements.  The HBA worked with city staff on the language and advocated for its passage at city council.  The ordinance passed without issue, with the result being a mutually beneficial win for both the city and developers.
  6. City of Austin Electrical Inspection Relief: As Austin continues to grow, the city has experienced a 70% increase in residential electrical inspections.  While the bulk of this is due to population growth, a substantial portion is due to city regulations that make it difficult to hire additional inspectors.  The HBA participated in a work group formed by the city’s electrical board to find solutions to these problems.  One challenging regulation requires a city inspector hold a master-level electrician certification for at least two years prior to working for the city. This requirement arbitrarily limits the city’s hiring pool, making it difficult to get the necessary number of inspectors in the field.  The work group put together a rule change for the criteria manual removing the masters level requirement, which was approved in November.  Since then, additional inspector positions have been posted by the city with the expectation to have more inspectors in the field by February of 2019.