Oct. 7, 2019
By Katie Hall
By Mark D. Wilson Posted Oct 4, 2019 at 11:44 AM Updated Oct 5, 2019 at 11:08 AM
Austin’s latest attempt at a new, comprehensive land development code envisions a future with more multi-unit housing and fewer single-family homes.
Austin officials on Friday released the long-anticipated rewrite of the city’s land use code since a previous effort to revamp it last year failed. Officials said it would increase the number of homes that can be built in the city while protecting homeowners who currently reside in Austin’s urban core and along major corridors.
Under the new code, homeowners in those spaces — known as transition areas — will retain their ability to renovate, remodel or demolish their properties and rebuild them as single-family structures. However, single-family homes that are converted into multifamily units won’t be able to go back. Property owners in every residential zone throughout the city also will be allowed to build a separate detached housing unit on their land.
Brent Lloyd, a project lead from the Development Services Department, said the proposal gives homeowners broader rights to make additions and rebuild their properties.
“So, if you’re somebody that has a 900-square-foot bungalow in a transition area, you can rebuild it as a larger structure potentially,” Lloyd said.
In May, the City Council instructed city planners to create rules that could allow for more than 100,000 new homes in Austin over the next 10 years and more than 400,000 in the long term.
“Planning for the future”
Well before the release of the land development code proposal Friday, familiar battle lines were taking shape between neighborhood and historic preservation advocates, who worry that the new rules would increase demolition pressures in urban core neighborhoods, and those pushing for more density in those areas.
Annick Beaudet, another project lead from the Transportation Department, said transition areas under the proposed code would compose roughly 2% of the city. The depth of the transitions areas would vary from corridor to corridor, but they would generally reach between 500 to 700 feet into surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re really trying to take care of who’s here today, but also planning for the future because our population doubles every 20 years,” Beaudet said. “We’re using sound planning principles to guide that road to where it can do the most good ... but also respecting the choice of homeowners today.”
Lloyd said the main goal is to provide diverse housing choices — like small-scale fourplexes and sixplexes about the size of a house — that offer living options for a wide range of income levels.
While packing people into more dense housing complexes, the code also plans to shear away parking. It would let developers choose whether to provide parking when certain criteria are met, such as having sidewalks or corridor access.
City Council Member Greg Casar said Friday that some of the city’s biggest challenges stem from housing and planning policies.
“For too long, we’ve let the status quo continue. This has increased housing prices, pushed people out of their homes without options, hurt our environment and damaged the success of public transportation,” he said. “The City Council has asked for a new code that pushes back against gentrifying forces and exclusionary zoning, focusing instead on social equity and environmental protection. Over the next few months, we finally have a chance to change the status quo for the better, together.”
Council Member Leslie Pool, however, raised concerns with the code development process, which could see a final vote before the year ends.
“I continue to believe that this process has been rushed,” she said. “It looks to me, yet again, that we’ll have insufficient time for the requisite levels of analysis and review. I continue to believe that it’s more important to get policy right than to do it fast. I don’t know what’s to be gained by doing it fast; I would much rather get it right.”
Fred Lewis of Community Not Commodity, a group that sternly opposed CodeNext, the city’s previous code rewrite effort, said people will need more time to study the code before drawing sound conclusions.
“We do know, though, that the process has been flawed and that there’s been very little public input and very little transparency. It’s likely we’ll end up with a product very much like CodeNext. We do think, looking at the map, that neighborhoods are going to be hit harder than council and staff led us to believe,” he said.
Before the code can be adopted, the public will be able to provide comments directly to the Planning Commission and City Council. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Oct. 26 and is expected to make a recommendation about the code next month. The council also is expected to have a hearing about the code next month.
“Today is a critical milestone on our path towards updating our citywide land development code, something that needs to happen so that we have better tools to address the challenges our community faces,” Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said Friday. “The input we received from the public over the years, the work council did leading up to the policy direction and the continued work on staff’s part, have all led us to this point. This is an iterative process, and we must all continue working together until a new Land Development Code is adopted, hopefully next year.”
*Article from Statesman