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Citizens join UDC fight

District 9 Councilman Kevin Wolff waxed apoplectic last week as City Council tightened rules concerning granting grandfather clauses to developers. “I’m tired of how much we deride developers in this city,” Wolff said. “It’s disengenuous to take shots at developers. If they weren’t here, none of us would be here.”

Despite protests by Wolff and members of the development community, including the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, the Real Estate Council, and City Hall lobbyist Ken Brown, Council voted unanimously to restrict vested rights in the City’s Uniform Development Code. Council revises the UDC every year, and critics charge the changes often favor developers.

But not this time. Now, when developers show a project to the City, they must submit a site plan at the beginning of the process. However, “only a small fraction of developments will be required to submit site plans,” wrote Richard Alles, a local environmentalist. “The City’s weak grandfathering rules are mostly unchanged.”

“Development is a good thing.

I’m not happy with this process, not even a little.”


– district 9 councilman Kevin Wolff

The main change to the ordinance would allow a developer to make one change in the project — that would constitute progress — within five years from the filing date. However, there could be no increase in impervious cover (pavement) and no increase in the total square footage of the footprint.

“Basically, what passed was much better than what we had, but it still needs fixing,” explained Annalisa Peace of Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas. “If you submit plans to build this, that, and the other, and if you change your plans, you lose vested rights. With fair notice, you need a site plan at the beginning of a project, so they know if you’re going to build what you say you will build.”

Mayor Phil Hardberger said a civil discourse on an emotional issue such as granting grandfathering rights to developers can be very difficult.

“Good opinions were heard today. Sometimes when there are complaints on both sides, it means you have a good balance.”

Erin Zayko used an analogy to explain her support of the new rules. She began studies at a university with a budget planned for the years she would spend on her school work. At one point during her college days, tuition fees were deregulated, and therefore she had to budget more funds to pay for college.

“I wasn’t given grandfathering rights to what the tuition was when I started college.”

She urged Council to vote in favor of the amendments. “There’s a sensibility to sustainable growth. Without resources (such as water and trees), there would be an economic decline, and businesses are discovering that fact.”

Other concerned citizens bemoaned the fact that developers have three avenues to obtain vested rights on properties: through City staff, the zoning and planning commissions, and City Council. Citizens who want to oppose grandfathering have no such avenues. “This is clearly an issue of money versus people as it has always been in San Antonio,” one citizen argued.

Councilman Wolff warned that the Texas Legislature could reverse the amendment during the 2007 session.

“Development is a good thing,” squealed Wolff. “I’m not happy with this process, not even a little.”

“I am opposed to any amendments,” grumbled lobbyist Brown. “What’s in place now is perfectly fine. We don’t have a crisis.”

He gets paid to say things like that.

By Michael Cary


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