Developers and park advocates agree new construction should pay more fees toward parkland, but the two groups differed Nov. 13 on exactly how much land must be dedicated per project.

Efforts to require developers to contribute more toward new parkland passed only on first reading during an early-morning conversation among Austin City Council members. Both sides of the debate agreed to increased parkland dedication fees and increased fees in lieu, which go toward developing new park space. However, some City Council members expressed concerns about a new formula that nearly doubles the amount of required parkland developers must dedicate.

Mayor Steve Adler also said he worried the proposal asked Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley to pick between dedicated parkland or keeping space available for affordable housing units. Furthermore, he said there is no opportunity for developers to appeal any decision ultimately made by Hensley.

"I'm wondering if that's putting an unfair burden on you as parks director to be making a broad land use determination," Adler said. "I wonder if in that decision-making process there needs to be somebody else."

Hensley said staff would not be opposed to creating an appeals process.

"When you have a project come forward, it needs to be looked at holistically, from my viewpoint, from housing, planning and watershed," Hensley said. "We need to collectively sit down and have those discussions with developers."

Concern from Adler prompted City Council to delay final passage of the proposed new parkland dedication fee structure until second reading, which will occur Nov. 19.

The extra time also allows city staff to look into potential unintended consequences that Real Estate Council of Austin members suggested could occur because of the increased parkland dedication requirement, which calls for 9.4 acres—up from 5 acres—of parkland for every 1,000 residents within a new development.

For example, the 21-acre Triangle development in Central Austin has 3 acres of parkland space, but the new formula would require 12 acres, according to Jeff Howard, land use lawyer and past RECA president.

"We could not do the Triangle [under this scenario]," Howard said.

Hensley expressed interest in working with developers to create more certainty during the planning process.

"We are not enemies with development," she said. "We are partners with the development community. We need them just like they need us."

Council at approximately 2:25 a.m. Nov. 13 passed the item on first reading only with a 10-1 vote, with Council Member Don Zimmerman siding against the proposed changes.