Are You Grandfathered?

City of Austin Passes New Site Plan Grandfathering Ordinance

posted by Bob Galloway

On June 15, 2014 the Austin City Council passed a new grandfathering ordinance that established how long before an approved site plan will expire. Up until then every approved site plan came with an expiration date established by the city reviewers: typically only 3 years – 2 years in the Barton Springs watershed. Extensions to approved site plans were often granted but not without a lengthy determination process.

As Landowners who have developed projects within the City of Austin and within Austin’s ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) know, an approved site plan can take anywhere from 6 to 15 months to successfully navigate the review and approval process, especially if rezoning, re-platting, or variances are involved. Added to the extended timeframe are expensive civil engineering fees as well as City review fees. This makes approved site plan for a building or campus development very valuable. If a site plan expires the Owner will have to begin the process again but under any new ordinances that may have been passed since the previous approval. And of course the trend of ordinances over time is usually to become more restrictive.

Under this new grandfathering ordinance an Owner now has nine years (instead of three) in which the approved site plan remains active and usable for the development of a project.  However, the nine-year clock begins on the very first day that an Owner submits paperwork for site plan approval. So, if it takes you a year to obtain site plan approval from the City, the approved plan will only have eight years remaining before it expires (or is granted an extension). It remains to be seen if the City will be more reluctant to grant site plan extensions with this new nine-year ordinance in place.

One benefit of the nine-year time frame is the ability to obtain site plan approval for future facilities or additions indicated by the civil engineer as future phases of construction on the permit drawings of your current development project. Nevertheless, a multi-phased Site Master Plan (particularly for a church or non-profit campus) may end up taking Owners much longer than 9 years to fully fund and build-out. There are other tools that an Owner can utilize to extend the life of an approved site plan such as a Managed Growth Agreement. MGA's require the involvement of attorneys and City Council approval, the details of which are best left for another discussion.

Conclusion

So, what is the benefit of this new ruling? Will it be any easier or faster to obtain a site plan approval? Probably not. Once you have an approved site plan will corrections or revisions be any easier or faster? Probably not. But an approved site plan with an expiration date eight or nine years in the future may mean:

  1. Less urgency to complete a site master plan after completing phase 1 of a new development.
  2. Fewer applications to the City for site plan extensions, hence less engineering and legal costs.
  3. Fewer fees to redesign an expired site plan that must be re-engineered under current CoA and environmental rules.