BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 27, 2019)



Several Austin policymakers want votes on the land-development code rewrite in 2019 (Community Impact)

Six months after City Council voted to end its five-year project to rewrite Austin’s land-use rules, the effort has been rejuvenated, and local policymakers say action, not lengthy debate, is needed in 2019.

Austin’s land-development code—the rules governing what can be built and where—has not seen a substantial update since 1984, when the population was less than half what it is today and land development and demand were at more manageable levels. The need for a new land-development code has been almost unanimously endorsed by the community, but deep divisions exist in how and what to change.

It is at those fault lines where City Council will begin this second attempt at a rewrite. City Manager Spencer Cronk, who was tapped by council to come up with a revision process, asked council members last week to submit their opinions on the hotbed issues of housing supply and density, parking requirements and compatibility standards and the scope of the rewrite in order to guide his team’s strategy.

Following a high-level overview of the policy guidance survey, several council members at the March 26 work session said they want action taken on the land-development code in 2019…

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Ramshackle 117-year-old house slated for historic zoning against owner’s wishes (Austin Monitor)

Photos of the home show missing windows, holes in the floor and a dilapidated roof. In a similar selection of adjectives to what staff used to describe the property, Commissioner Kevin Koch noted that the photos indicated a “horrific” interior with conditions that “are shocking.” Still, the commissioner asserted that he believed the home was salvageable. Commissioner Witt Featherston agreed with his assessment.

The rest of the commissioners, city staff, neighbors and Reilert all agreed that the property was notable and would be worth preserving. However, with the condition as it is, everyone but the commissioners agreed that the structure was in disrepair and dangerous.

Nevertheless, with so few examples of properties from this era, the commissioners felt that they should not give up on this historical resource without a fight for its life. “I’m guarded about initiating (historic zoning) without the full embrace of the owner’s support, but in this case, I think it’s warranted,” noted Commissioner Ben Heimsath.

The decision to pursue historic zoning left [homeowner Geoff] Reilert gobsmacked. “Everyone I received consultation from told me there’s no way it could be reasonably zoned as historic in its current condition,” he told the Monitor. “If it’s zoned historic, I don’t know what my next move is.”…

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A ‘trophy asset’ on South Congress Avenue is up for sale (Austin American-Statesman)

In a rare market opportunity, a South Congress building that is home to Kendra Scott’s swanky new flagship store is up for sale.

CBRE, a commercial real estate and investment firm, said Wednesday that the 1701 S. Congress Ave. property has been put on the market. CBRE did not provide a listing price.

“Kendra Scott will be staying in the location,” said Brad Bailey, first vice president at CBRE. “The current owner, a private investor who owns the asset, is selling the asset as part of his investment strategy.”

The 3,110-square-foot building was built in 1920 and sits on a 0.16-acre lot at South Congress and Milton Street. The site was previously home to Hill Country Weavers before undergoing a full renovation in 2018. Austin architect Michael Hsu’s firm renovated the existing shell building structure, and Sixthriver Architects created the full interior design and exterior finish…

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After Bribery Scandal, UT Austin's Admissions Practices Being Investigated By Feds (KUT)

The University of Texas at Austin is among eight schools now being investigated in connection with a nationwide admissions bribery scandal.

University officials were sent a letter from the U.S. Department of Education advising that UT’s admissions practices were the subject of a “preliminary investigation” into whether any federal financial aid regulations were violated.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors in Boston detailed a wide-ranging scheme to rig student test scores and bribe athletic officials at top-tier colleges and universities to guarantee admission for some wealthy applicants. More than 50 people were charged…

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Updated property tax reform proposal surfaces in the Texas House (Texas Tribune)

In an effort to continue working toward property tax reform, a Texas House chairman tasked with spearheading the issue this legislative session sent colleagues a new draft of his high-priority bill on Tuesday — the day before his committee could vote to advance the proposal.

A draft substitute of House Bill 2, obtained by The Texas Tribune, would still require that local governments hold an election before raising 2.5 percent more property tax revenue than the previous year. But it would add a carry-over provision that lets taxing units bank unused revenue growth for five years, allowing them to exceed the trigger point for an election if they had less than 2.5 percent growth in preceding years.

Small municipalities could also benefit from a “revenue enrichment” measure that would effectively let them raise up to $250,000 in new property taxes a year, even if it exceeded the growth limit. That threshold would be updated by the state comptroller each year…

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Houston Ship Channel closure could cost $1 billion (Houston Chronicle)

The closure of a portion of the Houston Ship Channel in the aftermath of the days-long Deer Park chemical fire could cost the petroleum and petrochemical sectors an estimated $1 billion in direct and indirect costs and lost revenues, experts said.

Shutting down a major chunk of the Port of Houston for a few days means cutting off access to the biggest port in the nation in terms of foreign tonnage, shipping out petroleum, chemicals, plastics and countless other products in container terminals while receiving large volumes of crude oil and massive container cargo ships…

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Advocates Say Lobbyists Shaped Texas Labor Rule That Could Exempt App-Based Workers From Benefits (KUT)

Workers' rights advocates called on the Texas Workforce Commission to abandon a proposed rule that would exempt gig economy contractors from unemployment benefits. They say the rule was crafted by industry lobbyists and could encourage businesses to adopt online-only models to dodge state taxes for worker benefits.

The rule, which passed on an initial 2-1 vote in December, exempts employees of online-based firms like Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit from state benefits for unemployment insurance. It redefines employment for these workers, who are often in control of when and how frequently they work and don't have the same requirements as traditional contractors.

At a press conference Tuesday, the Workers Defense Project and the Texas AFL-CIO said the Texas Workforce Commission's rule could mean millions of online-based contractors in a growing labor sector will go without benefits, as the rule change could inspire others to abandon a brick-and-mortar business model to cut costs…

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Bexar County looks to buy voting machines with a paper trail (San Antonio Express-News)

Looking to prevent hackers from tampering with election results, Bexar County officials are moving toward the purchase of a new $12 million voting system that will create a paper trail for every ballot cast. They hope to have the system in place in time for the 2020 presidential election.

Bexar County commissioners could take a first step as early as Tuesday to acquire the new voting equipment and supplies. Commissioners will consider whether to authorize county staff to negotiate a contract with Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the county’s current vendor, or Hart Intercivic, the other system certified by the state. Either company could provide voting machines with paper documentation…

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Two Bills Aim To Bring Broadband To Rural Texas (KUT)

In the 1930s, a young congressman named Lyndon Johnson decided he wanted to do something grand – on the scale of his hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He pushed for rural electrification, i.e., bringing electricity to remote areas that didn't yet have power – both in Texas and across the country. Today, there's a similar urban-rural divide when it comes to broadband internet access.

State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, a Waco Republican, wants to address that broadband divide. He says that in the 1930s, power companies didn't provided electricity in rural areas because it wasn't profitable to do so. The same is true of broadband providers today…

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Trump Administration Says Entire Affordable Care Act Should Be Repealed (KUT)

In a significant shift, the Trump administration says the entirety of the Affordable Care Act should be struck down in the courts. Previously, the administration had pushed to remove the law's protections for people with pre-existing conditions but had not argued in court that the whole law should be struck down.

The change was announced in a two-sentence letter from the Department of Justice to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the ruling made in December by a district court judge in Texas "should be affirmed."…

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NASA cancels first all-female spacewalk over spacesuit sizes (New York Times)

It had not been planned as a historic mission, yet it would have represented a moment of sorts: the first all-female spacewalk. But that moment will have to wait, NASA said Monday, because of a somewhat basic issue — spacesuit sizes.

The two astronauts who were scheduled to walk together in space Friday, Anne C. McClain and Christina H. Koch, would both need to wear a medium-size torso component. But only one is readily available at the International Space Station…

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Episode 40: Discussing Austin's Affordability Unlocked Resolution with Megan Lasch

(Run time - 15:57)

On today’s episode we speak with Megan Lasch, with Saigebrook Development, an Austin-based affordable housing development firm.

She and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Affordabilty Unlocked resolution, passed unanimously by Austin’s City Council on February 21, 2019.

The overall objectives contained in the resolution are to:

  • Maximize affordable housing;

  • Make it easier and less costly to build affordable housing; and

  • Allow affordable housing in high-opportunity areas and areas facing and susceptible to gentrification 

City staff have until May 9 of this year to present a draft ordinance to Council.

She and A.J. also discuss the overall model of for profit affordable housing, and its fit in the Austin development community.

Megan is a graduate of Oklahoma State University (B.S. Engineering). You can learn more about her, here.

This episode was recorded on February 27, 2019.

You can listen to this episode and previous ones on iTunes, Google Play, and STITCHER at the links below. Please leave a review and rating. Share and subscribe today!


Link to executed resolution (City of Austin)

Link to Council resolution presentation (City of Austin)

Saigebrook Development (Company page)

Saigebrook Development Facebook

Link to Episode 40


Bingham Group CEO Receives Rice University MBA Part-time Faculty Appointment

Bingham Group Founder and CEO A.J. Bingham has accepted a part-time faculty appointment teaching an MBA level course on Business-GovernmentRelations (MGMT 561) at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

The course begins in May and will be conducted through video conference.

A.J. previously taught a similar MBA level course at Austin’s Concordia University in 2015.


Named in honor of the late Jesse H. Jones, a prominent Houston business and civic leader, Rice Business is consistently ranked among the nation's top business schools.

The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


Twitter #binghamgp 

Instagram #binghamgp