Proposed Agent of Change policy gets push at Music Commission meeting

The Westin Downtown Austin hotel's recent suit against a Sixth Street venue has helped push an Agent of Change proposal to the fore of the city's agenda. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015 RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Westin Downtown Austin hotel’s recent suit against a Sixth Street venue has helped push an Agent of Change proposal to the fore of the city’s agenda. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015

On the heels of the recent legal dispute between the Westin Austin Downtown Hotel and a Sixth Street live music venue, the City of Austin Economic Development Department provided more details about a much-discussed “Agent of Change” policy at a Monday night meeting of the city’s Music Commission.

Designed to prevent future conflicts between commercial and residential developments, the Agent of Change proposal would require new residential developments to acknowledge proximity to venues within 600 feet, and vice versa. Under the proposed policy, “the agent that creates the change is the one responsible,” said Alex Lopez, deputy director of the Economic Development Department, who presented the proposal to the commission.

The policy also would formally require a disclosure of proximity before property is bought or leased. In addition, it would add language to the city code aimed at supporting venues that are in compliance with sound impact regulations.

Lopez acknowledged that Agent of Change policy could not apply to existing conflicts such as the one involving the Westin, which filed filed a civil nuisance lawsuit against adjacent outdoor venue the Nook in December. But it could prevent future such conflicts. “The sooner we get something like this on the books, the better we can prevent these situations,” she said.

READ MORE: Westin hotel files lawsuit against neighboring Nook nightclub

Lopez’s presentation dovetailed the Agent of Change issues with a proposed Entertainment License designed to streamline various permitting processes that venues face. Currently, a sound impact plan is required of all outdoor music venues. With the Entertainment License, such a plan would be required only when venues (whether indoor or outdoor) incur documented sound violations.

The proposal also seeks to reduce costs to venues by changing some renewal processes from annually to every three years. According to a chart distributed to commission members, fees for outdoor venues would be reduced from a current three-year cost of $3,123 to $1,000, or just $100 if a sound impact plan isn’t required at the venue.

RELATED: Austin music venues hope for city effort to streamline permitting

Don Pitts, manager of the city’s Music and Entertainment Division, noted that while the proposed changes should assist venues that follow regulations, they aren’t intended to help those not in compliance. “Bad actors would not be afforded protection by Agent of Change,” he said.

Lopez and Pitts will present details of the proposal at several other industry and community events over the next few weeks, including an open meeting  at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 at the Austin Public Library’s Cepeda branch, 651 N. Pleasant Valley Road.

Lopez said they plan to bring their proposal to the City Council in March, though she noted that “depending on the kind of feedback we get (at the upcoming presentations), we may need to slow down.”

The commission also briefly discussed adjustments to the city code on busking, but ultimately opted to delay any possible action until a proposed joint meeting with the Arts Commission next month.


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