AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a council committee meeting Tuesday, Austin’s Housing and Planning Department shared of its seven zoning positions, five are vacant.
“That’s through normal attrition. That’s a 20-year group that was working together, and in the last six months or so have decided to shift on and do other things either through retirement or different challenges with the City of Austin,” Rosie Truelove, director of the Housing and Planning Department, said.
State law allows local municipalities to regulate zoning, which determines restrictions including how tall your building can be, how far from other properties you have to build, how much parking you’re required to have, etc.
Right now, seven zoning staff members — of which only two exist — are in charge of sifting through the roughly 200 zoning or rezoning cases submitted every year, Truelove said.
“This is one of the biggest concerns I have when it comes to our department,” Council Member Ryan Alter, vice chair of the Housing and Planning Committee, said. “If we lose our last zoning officer, I don’t even know what the answer is at that point, and I don’t want to know.”
Truelove suggested that wouldn’t be the case but also said the department is borrowing staff from other departments like development services. They’re also reaching out to retirees and working to create a pipeline of university students who might start as part-time employees and move to full-time positions after graduation.
“I just want to assure folks that we are doing absolutely everything we possibly can to keep up with the demand,” Truelove said.
“Austin is in a housing affordability crisis. Creating a new housing supply is key to getting us out of this crisis and our zoning staff is critical when it comes to making sure that we have new supply,” Council Member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri said.
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Land development code amendments
Of the most universally discussed priorities on the campaign trail last year, changing Austin’s decades-old land development code was at the top of the list.
Land development code amendments, of which the council has said there will be many moving forward, are resource and time-intensive, Truelove said. The department is also struggling with keeping staff that sort through LDC changes.
A staff member at the committee meeting estimated roughly half of their positions on that team within the department are vacant.
“I have a robust list of things that I want to change when it comes to the code, and I want to send those to our staff, so they can get those updates done as quickly as possible, but it’s going to be a challenge from the staffing side, so we need to address that piece right now,” Alter said.
There are 18 active land development code amendment cases, Truelove reported to council members. Those include the missing middle site plan, tenant protections and creative space and live music venue amendments.
“We need to get a good understanding from the council about what your priorities are, so that we can then have a good conversation about that,” Truelove said.