District 6’s Flannigan wants new wildfire risk requirements in zoning

Jimmy Flannigan

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

The Austin City Council is working on a rezoning request for 42 acres at the end of Milky Way Drive. As the request works its way through city council, Jimmy Flannigan of District 6 is trying to bring in new zoning requirements for projects in areas that are high risk for wildfire, like River Place.  

“We’ve gone through first and second readings and now we’re heading toward the third and final reading and vote on Oct. 31,” Flannigan said. In the past, council routinely ends early when meetings are on Halloween, so families can enjoy trick-or-treating, he added.

“A lot of work has gone into the first and second readings,” he said. 

Council members are working on how much of the rezoning requirements will be from city zoning and how much will be from a private agreement with the developer and the River Place community, Flannigan said. As of Wednesday evening, he didn’t know if this would ultimately involve the River Place Limited District or the River Place Homeowners Association or both. 

Part of the zoning conditional overlay, or CO, included in the second reading last week on Oct. 3 would add a new regulatory requirements that doesn’t exist in the Land Development Code today, Flannigan said. 

“No conditional overlays speak to wildfire risks,” he said. “During second reading, the CO was introduced that does those things.”

These new regulatory requirements would include fire resistant building materials, sufficient water sources and water pressure to fight wildfire, and fuel mitigation and buffering.

“Firewise with this River Place (MileStone) project will be mandatory and included with the zoning,” Flannigan said. “But it is voluntary everywhere else.”

City council is currently looking at three likely scenarios on how the rezoning will play out as it relates to roads and safety. 

If a street is built that would come into and connect with Sitio Del Rio Boulevard, and “no cars would be touching River Place, then up to 100 units could be built,” Flannigan said.

“If that can’t be accomplished by the developer, and if the fire marshall signs off on an emergency access, then the developer will only be able to build within the desirable traffic level, roughly 50 to 60 units,” Flannigan said.

“The third level is if the developer can’t obtain emergency access and Milky Way is all you get, then 30 units,” he said. “If Milky Way is the only way in and out, than the minimum you can do (is 30 units) without running afoul with the Texas property code.”

He said that by the time of the final reading, it will be more clear on which requirements will be put into the zoning and which will be private agreements with the HOA and/or limited district and developer or both.

There have been vocal concerns raised over wildfire risk and public safety in the canyons of River Place, especially with the higher density being proposed by the project.

“I think it’s a shared concern. I’m also concerned about wildfire risk,” Flannigan said. “This is an opportunity to develop new sets of requirements to directly address those risks.”

He hopes that this zoning example can be the initial framework for other initiatives that involve other areas with wildfire risk.

“This allows us to require a higher level of safety in building and layout that we wouldn’t get with a basic level of zonings,” he added. 

As the River Place rezoning request is up for its final vote in the weeks ahead, Flannigan is optimistic that things can work out for all parties.

“I think we’ve reached a strong set of conditions in the CO. If any needs private agreements, we will not move forward unless all of the conditions are enforced,” Flannigan said.