CodeNEXT: Replace Impervious Cover Limits with a Tax?

Thanks for sharing your expertise and urging a scientific approach to addressing water quality and protection of environmentally-sensitive land.

I see at least three ways to measure impervious cover for the purposes of taxing or imposing fees on it:

  1. Square footage of impervious cover per acre (or percentage of impervious cover on a lot).
  2. Square footage of impervious cover (the amount of impervious cover on a lot, regardless of the total lot square footage).
  3. Square footage of impervious cover per person.

The initial proposal in this discussion thread was for (2), simply the amount of impervious cover, no matter what the lot size. Several participants noted that this measure, taxed at a high enough rate, would discourage sprawl development, perhaps to a severe degree. Perhaps going even further with (3) is not necessary to encourage desirable development patterns?

Several people have brought up flooding as an issue, which has ramifications beyond water quality but also on safety and risk of property damage. Do you have any thoughts to share on that issue?

Finally, should the revenue from any tax or fee on run-off be dedicated to water quality and detention infrastructure of the type suggested in one of the other proposed resolutions on CodeNEXT?

Has the FAN board voted on all these recommendations? If so what where the vote counts for each.

I can start a separate thread if needed.

The FAN board does not vote as a body on policy resolutions to “filter” them before bringing them to a vote of the full membership. FAN is not a top-down organization.

The procedure is for members (including directors on the board) to initiate a discussion here in this forum on a potential resolution, to invite participation in the discussion, and for at least one board member to “sponsor” the resolution once she deems it suitable for a vote of the membership. (Sponsoring a resolution does not necessarily imply endorsement.) Once sponsored and packaged onto a ballot, a resolution goes before the full membership for a vote.

It is true that members of the board vote on resolutions just as all members of FAN have the opportunity to do. If you’re curious about how each member of the board has voted, or plans to vote, on these resolutions, then you are certainly welcome to start a new thread and ask.

I really like all of the resolutions and think, if implemented, would give us a great land development code. There are probably more issues FAN could have voted on too, but I think these are some of the main big issues. I voted through Helios already and I supported each resolution (not as a board member, but as an individual member of FAN).

In the past I have heard that the challenge with existing NON-compliant commercial development was or is that the SOS redevelopment ordinance requires financially impractical constraints upon property owners. Specifically, the loss of revenue while redeveloping, demolition costs, detention pond construction and engineering costs together or even individually are too great a burden for property owners to redevelop.

To be fair, not all property owners are the same. Of the 199 properties (666.5 acres) targeted when crafting the redevelopment ordinance (to bring non-compliant properties into compliant and reduce pollution) 140 parcels are less than 3 acres. and the smallest might be 1/2 acre for a gas station. At the other end of the spectrum is Barton Creek Mall at 112 acres and 90+% impervious cover. The largest 20 parcels (10%) are greater than 15 acres and in the middle 40 parcels are between 3and 15 acres.

All 199 parcels are currently a source of pollution from parking lot runoff and lack SOS compliant flood control ponds. SOS and the redevelopment ordinance as implemented by the City are an impediment to cleaning up pollution in the Barton Springs Zone.

I believe there is a better way that does not involve changing SOS. It would be elective by the property owners. It would restore highest and best use of and and increase tax revenue.

That strategy would allow low acreage property owners (< 3 acres) to develop under SOS or elect to voluntarily place an additional property tax of their property in lieu of complying with SOS. The additional tax burden would be negotiated between the property owner and the City.

One of the major impediments to redevelopment for owners of small parcels is the significant front end costs along with others mentioned above. The purchase of water quality mitigation land required by the City is one such expense. This alternate strategy would allow the owner to pass through to future tenants the additional property taxes as part of their triple net lease agreements.

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This is a interesting idea and the simplicity of it is enticing, but to apply it uniformly across the City makes it unsupportable. There are certain highly sensitive areas where impervious cover is both particularly detrimental and difficult to mitigate even though the land may be desirable enough to those who can afford to pay whatever additional fees are incurred (e.g., West Austin hills over recharge zone and at the top of watersheds; floodways that may be near otherwise desirable water features.)

Agree with other comments that the success of the proposal is too dependent on setting just-the-right fee (which probably varies by area) as well as collaboration with AHJs in neighboring municipalities and unincorporated areas such that unintended sprawl isn’t the result.

A base ‘by right’ amount of impervious cover by zoning district (with some more restrictive overlays) and then an ability to ‘buy’ additional impervious cover in desired growth areas only is probably a better approach.

Not being sure if this is like Brexit, and we only get one chance, I voted (so far) in favor of what @carsonjd rightly pointed out is an imperfect proposal. Suggestions that impervious cover restrictions should be relaxed and runoff be a priority appear to be shared beliefs among "all’, how it is packaged needs some work. It is an important shift in thinking worth pursuing and promoting it may be my favorite of the 9 resolutions.

Let me ask the question - why tax impervious cover, especially the portion used for buildings? Maybe tax single story buildings or surface parking, or high cover per unit, but dense housing? Maybe if for additional revenue or to mitigate over reliance on property taxes? Both could be right answers.

It seems like the devil is runoff, and as rightly pointed out in SOS and upstream watershed areas it may well be appropriate to look at the issue differently. That could help protect the green belt and provide even further incentives towards compact and connected. I don"t see us controlling sprawl outside our boundaries, best hope may be for jobs closer to or in those communities. It"s happening partly already due to Austin affordability.

Like the SOS ordinance it would only apply in the Barton Springs Zone. It would not be applied across the entirety of the City but only in the BSZ and only for NON-compliant existing commercial properties and an alternative to SOS or the rules established within the Redevelopment Ordinance.

Be mindful that these small parcels perpetuate not only pollution but legacy uses and architecture that do not reflect current best and highest use. Therefore they are under performing with respect to generating tax revenue as well.

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Taxing impervious cover is better than the alternatives because it’s the thing that creates the externality that causes the most problems for others. Development would naturally occur both wider and higher in higher-value parcels and stay lower in lower-value parcels if we established a simple price for impervious cover rather than an arbitrarily low cap.

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