State law could fast track building developments

By Camelia Juarez and Moses Leos III

A tighter deadline to approve or deny proposed developments could strain cities as they attempt to manage growth.

Ultimately, city planners fear new rules per House Bill 3167, also known as the “shot clock bill,” could lead to developments that might not be up to code and might not be transparent to their citizenry.

Beginning Sept. 1, HB 3167, signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott June 14, will force cities like Dripping Springs and Kyle to approve a development plan within 30 days of initially reviewing it. Normally, such processes can take months to complete. If a city does not approve or deny the item after the 30 day window, the development is automatically approved.

In response to the new timeline, state lawmakers removed the requirement of a public notice for those developments. Public notices are placed in newspapers to inform the public of an item is going before a municipality.

To maintain quality developments, Dripping Springs Planning Director Jason Lutz said he is going to make several changes to keep up with the new state law. The Dripping Springs City Council Sept. 10 is expected to take up those changes, which will come in the form of amendments to the city’s existing development ordinance.

Lutz said the goal of the Sept. 10 meeting will be to make sure the city is in compliance with the state.

“It’s a lot of pressure on cities, especially high growth cities like us. We have a planning area for thousands of people but we have a staff for hundreds of people. We can get the job done with a few changes to our process,” Lutz said.

Those adjustments include adding staff to the three-person city planning department and putting more pressure on developers.

Before the new state law, the city and developers would negotiate to meet the city code and the developers’ needs.

Developers will now be required to have their completed permits from TXDOT, utility companies and others approved before they submit their project to the city for approval. Additionally, developers will have to provide a narrative of how they meet the city’s code.

“We have some concerns about (the lack of) public notice. We will try to give some notice through signs, website and newspapers, but it’s something to work out at the city council meeting,” Lutz said.

In Kyle, which is also experiencing exponential growth, Community Development Director Howard Koontz said staff also looked over its rules and regulations to make sure they were within the letter of the law. The Kyle City Council Aug. 20 approved updates to the city’s development codes on first reading, and on the second reading Sept. 3.

Koontz said one of the biggest changes is how the city handles its platting process. A plat is a map submitted by a developer of an area of land that’s proposed for construction.

Where once the city was able to “stack” plats to review them simultaneously, the city will now be forced to look at them one at a time in the short term. Much like in Dripping Springs, Kyle will also require developers to obtain any variances and other permits before the city begins to review a plat, which officially starts the 30-day clock.

Other changes includes requiring developers to submit their information on a specific day of the month to give city boards and commissions enough time to review them.

“We’re going to take everything one issue at a time,” Koontz said.

While Koontz said there’s some concern as cities “don’t want to sacrifice quality for the sake of timeliness,” he said Kyle has had a good relationship with its clients in the past and hasn’t had an issue of delaying plats.

However, the city is also planning to make what had been a courtesy review during the pre-submittal process of a plat compulsory.

“That will be mandatory, because everyone needs to know where we’re coming from before we get started,” Koontz said.

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