AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin told KXAN Tuesday it currently has no plans to appeal a recent court ruling that effectively shot down a years-long effort to overhaul of the city’s Land Development Code.
The statement comes as the White House aims to incentivize municipalities to revamp their zoning regulations in an effort to create more, ideally affordable housing options in communities seeing skyrocketing home prices — like Austin.
The majority of Austin is zoned for single-family homes. The last time the city changed its land development code was in the 1980s.
In March, the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston sided with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city. A group of homeowners maintained the council failed to get enough public feedback on the proposed code changes.
An Austin spokesperson said the city continues to review the March ruling.
The Biden administration is offering federal grant dollars to jurisdictions that have been successful in setting land-use policies that promote increased housing density.
“[President Biden] is clearly acknowledging what I think the data supports and has for a time starting with the Obama administration,” said Scott Turner, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin.
“Exclusionary zoning policies limit the housing supply, particularly in areas where home prices really are a problem,” Turner said, adding he also understands why many longtime homeowners might be resistant to change.
“Wherever you grew up, of course, you want to see that neighborhood stay the same,” he said. “But cities change, and Austin has changed a lot.“
East Austin resident Jeff Strange and his family have lived in their house since 2008.
“We wanted a home with a yard for the kids and the dogs and space to enjoy our time,” he told KXAN. “There are a lot of trees and single-family homes, a lot of kids.”
Strange said if his home were to one day find itself sandwiched between new apartments or duplexes, he could learn to live with it.
“It would be hard to swallow, but you know, you’ve got to accept the city growth as well,” he said. “There’s a fine line.”
A National Zoning Atlas
Sara Bronin, a professor at Cornell Law School who researches housing policy, said zoning laws emerged in the U.S. about a century ago.
“The problem has been that places have copied their zoning codes from one another,” Bronin said. “And then once they started a zoning code, they pretty much left it as is. So, they haven’t really comprehensively looked at their codes in sometimes decades.”
Bronin and her team are spearheading a project known as the National Zoning Atlas. The researchers hope to collect zoning data from every city in the U.S.
“We could establish how everybody zones now,” Bronin said. “And then we could identify the things that communities need to do to make their communities more open and welcoming, more affordable, and more sustainable.”