AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a downtown Austin Fire and EMS station temporarily closed for emergency renovations — highlighting the need for additional public safety spaces in busy parts of town — some city leaders are looking at ways to incentivize the private sector to help.
Austin City Council could vote next week to kickstart the process of adding public safety incentives to its density bonus programs, according to council documents.
“I know that we are running out of real estate property in the City of Austin. I know that the cost of those properties keep rising and I also know that developers may be willing to pay for property or police, fire and EMS substations as a community benefit,” Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said. She is the author of the resolution.
The adjustment could convince private developers to build fire, EMS and police space into their buildings in exchange for city breaks. It’s something the city already does in exchange for community benefits like affordable housing and parkland.
“It is way too expensive for the City of Austin to buy property downtown in order to put a station in,” Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie said. She pointed to the closure of the downtown station and the number of calls EMS gets in that area, especially on weekend nights.
“We have ambulances that should be covering the neighborhoods having to come infill and help respond to all of the calls that we get downtown,” said Xie.
Xie said quickly growing parts of Austin like East Riverside, near the Tesla building and The Domain could benefit from additional spaces for first responders too. She noted larger cities like New York already utilize the private sector for public safety spaces.
City Council has already directed Austin City Manager Jesús Garza to revisit the city’s density bonus programs. If approved next week, this resolution would ask the city manager to include public safety incentives in the rewrite.
The resolution was brought forward by City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly and is co-sponsored by Council Members José ”Chito” Vela, Ryan Alter and José Velásquez.
The density bonus program rewrite is expected to come back to council for the next steps by mid-2024.