Austin Auditor: Demolition process needs revamp

A team in the City Auditor's Office decided to take a look at the process of demolishing homes.

AUSTIN - All across Austin, there are structures being torn down and replaced with new buildings. In the fiscal years 2015 and 2016 the city approved approximately 1,700 demolition permits, compared to about 600 in 2008.

"My walk to work used to be just like little old buildings and now there's like, on Chicon, they're like building all those apartments and stuff," said Lindsay Scheckelhoff who moved to East Austin two years ago. 

Her neighborhood is filled with homes being renovated or demolished and rebuilt.

"It just kind of happens and you're like 'oh that was there yesterday and now it's gone,'" Scheckelhoff said. 

Neighbors aren't the only ones who aren't in the loop about demolition projects.

"It's up to the property owner to notify, whether it's Austin Energy or Austin Water that that demolition is going to happen," explained City Auditor Corrie Stokes. "And then also to call the city for an inspection on the back end."

That's just one issue Stokes and her team found with the city's demolition process.

"The main thing is that this processes seems to have evolved rather than been developed intentionally for the purpose that we're using it today. So there's lots of pieces of it that may not be as efficient," Stokes said. 

"There are two different departments involved in this process and I think that was a surprise to a lot of stakeholders that if you have a commercial demolition, regardless of the age of the property, that you would go to the Historic Preservation Office which is located in our Planning and Zoning Department," Stokes explained. "And then if you have a residential demolition, you would go to Development Services and go through their permitting process and if it was historic, then it would kick back over to the Historic Preservation Office."

Stokes said there are also safety risks. Like many other Texas cities, Austin doesn't regulate who performs demolitions.

"We do want to make sure it's done safely and that all of the precautions that are needed are in place whether that's to protect trees or to protect neighbors property. But then also from a safety perspective, people knowing that it's happening so they can move out of the area," said Stokes. 

For Scheckelhoff, notice of a demolition would be a welcomed change.

"So if it is an issue where I like shouldn't be hanging out in the yard that day because there's a lot of dust in the air or just to know what's going on. I think people should know what's happening in their neighborhood," Scheckelhoff said. 

The Office of the Auditor is recommending the entire demolition process be revamped and the spokesperson for the Development Services Department told KVUE News they are committed to making changes to have a better system. The department plans to hold stakeholder meetings and have a new process in place by September 2018. 

Click here to read the full audit

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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