The city proposes a proposed structure for the allocation of a commercial park

Thursday May 5th, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

The framework for a new ordinance that would require public parkland for new commercial developments in Austin is coming to fruition.

In April, the city council approved a resolution which asked city staff to consider requiring green space to be dedicated to commercial, office and industrial developments. Currently, the city only needs dedicated green spaces for residential developments. Since 2018, the existing Park Divestiture Ordinance, which applies to new residential developments, has created 80 hectares of new urban park.

Council’s vote mirrored previous approvals from the Parks and Recreation Commission, which voted in 2020 and again in 2022 to require the designation of commercial parks. Last week, the parks board heard an update on the development of the new ordinance. Of note is a proposed framework for how land dedication to park – which can be through land dedication, park improvements or by paying fees in lieu – would be calculated.

The proposed formula calculates the required stock by multiplying a “functional population” of a new development by 6.8 acres and then dividing that number by 1,000. For the purposes of this formula, the functional population is calculated differently for offices, businesses and industries. These formulas are detailed in the slide below and based on an April 2022 study by the city.

Glide through the city of Austin.

Paul Books, who is a city planner, explained that under this formula, a 665,000 square foot downtown office building would spend either 3.3 acres of parkland, or about $1.12 million in park fees. A 50,000 square foot mall would have to provide 0.22 acres of parkland or pay $79,783 in lieu fees. And a 200,000 square foot industrial development would be asked to contribute 0.36 acres of parkland or $131,530 in fees.

Books pointed out that, in the case of a mixed-use development, the new ordinance would work in concert with the residential park designation ordinance, adding commercial requirements to the existing residential requirements.

He noted that developers could also consider “other creative ways to provide park space for the community, such as indoor spaces, public plazas or mini-terraces on upper floors.” These spaces should be open to the public, even if they are built on private property.

Part of the work that needs to be done in creating the Business Parks Ordinance is to establish that it is legally defensible as a concept. This requires determining what is known as the ‘essential link’, which connects the impact of a development on public resources to what a government asks in return.

Making that connection, Robynne Heymans, a planner who works with the city, told the council that parks play an “important role” in determining where businesses go. In addition, she said, “58% of the city’s workforce travels to Austin, adding park users who are not currently accounted for in current parking requirements.” allocation of parks. By establishing a commercial park designation ordinance, the city would be better able to provide commensurate recreation services to the workforce close to where they work.

Additionally, the city must consider “rough proportionality” in linking the increased cost of maintaining parks to the existing level of service for those in commercial developments. The cost of dedicating parks should be “roughly proportional” to this cost.

“We’re actually talking about creating open space for workers,” noted board member Rich DePalma, who said creating parks was “a component of worker health.”

At the moment, the city is still drafting the ordinance. The city plans to launch a website and online survey of the proposed fees soon and is holding discussions with stakeholders before the ordinance is sent to boards and commissions and returned to the city council, who will vote on any ordinance before that it becomes code of the city.

“I know we asked for it in March 2020, and I’m very, very grateful for all the work you’ve done,” said board chair Dawn Lewis. “I know it must have taken a long time to do the research and figure out the math…I certainly hope it comes to fruition.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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