November 13, 2022


Georgetown council approves view corridor waiver process

news photo

Georgetown’s View Protection Overlay District is outlined in grey south and west of downtown.

 

By BRIGID COOLEY 

Georgetown City Council is paving the way for exceptions to the city’s Courthouse View Corridor restrictions. Council on first reading established a waiver process via an executive text amendment to the Unified Development Code during its Tuesday, November 8, meeting.

Courthouse View Corridor restrictions attempt to preserve the view of the Williamson County Courthouse dome from sections of Interstate 35 and Austin Avenue by limiting building heights downtown, said Maddison O’Kelley, the city’s Preservation and Redevelopment Manager. Restrictions apply to buildings and developments located within the city’s Courthouse View Protection Overlay District, which was established in 2003. 

“For development projects that exceed the maximum height in the overlay, the UDC doesn’t really offer many options for relief in the requirements,” Ms. O’Kelley said. 

Developments subject to the restrictions include the city’s future downtown parking garage, which is planned for 0.66-acres of land located at 502 South Main Street, and is bordered by South Austin Avenue, South Main Street and Sixth Street. 

This location falls within the view corridor protection overlay, which dictates structures located within 30 feet of Austin  Avenue cannot be taller than 21 feet. This would limit parking garage design options and result in the loss of at least 38 proposed spaces. 

With this knowledge, the council initiated an emergency UDC amendment during a September 13 meeting in an attempt to keep the project on schedule. The garage could be completed by spring of 2024. 

Waiver process details 

The newly passed amendment modifies rules pertaining to applications and permits, as well as zoning districts, as outlined in the UDC. To receive an exception, developers must apply for a waiver through the Planning Department, Ms. O’Kelley said. 

Once submitted, requests will be reviewed by city staff, who will prepare a recommendation for city council. The waiver process requires a full public hearing, as well publishing a public notice and informing owners of nearby properties about the planned development. 

“Criteria of approval focuses on if there are site specific constraints, whether granting the waiver furthers the goals of the comprehensive plan, whether it protects public interest, and that it must ensure the building is in character with the height and scale of the surrounding area,” Ms. O’Kelley said. 

Properties both falling within the city’s historic overlay district and subject to approval from the  Historic and Architectural Review Commission must receive commission approval of conceptual plans before a waiver request can be initiated. 

Before Tuesday’s meeting, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the executive text amendment during its November 1 meeting.

A split vote 

The amendment was approved through a split 4-3 vote, with dissent coming from District 1 Council Member Amanda Parr, District 6 Council Member Jake French and District 7 Council Member Ben Stewart. 

Mr. French and Mr. Stewart objected to the motion because of an amendment proposed by District 5 Council Member Kevin Pitts, which would allow waivers to be approved by a simple majority vote. The process originally proposed by city staff required a three-fourths majority of the council present for the waiver to be approved.

“I think with the view corridor and with downtown development in general, we get one chance to really do it right and I think three quarters of the council just adds another level of caution to this variance that I think is worthwhile,” Mr. French said. 

Mr. Stewart agreed

“This is a big thing to request and I think it requires more than just a simple majority,” Mr. Stewart said. “I won’t support the amendment.” 

Ms. Parr said she supported a waiver process, but voted against it because the process was initiated specifically for a city project. 

“I would have preferred that we had done this through the UDC updates we’ll be undergoing over the next two years,” Ms. Parr said. 

The agenda item passed with Mr. Pitts’ amendment in place.