AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an attempt to work around Austin’s decades-old Land Development Code (LDC), the planning commission is working on a new zoning category intended to incentivize more housing.

The new zoning category would allow developers to come to the city with desired height, setbacks and parking, among other zoning standards in exchange for some affordable housing. The city would still get the final say.

Council Member Ryan Alter explained the new zoning category like this: It “creates a base level of your allowable use — whether that’s height, floor area ratio, impervious cover — and then what they do is they say ‘we’ll give you more height, in exchange for more affordability.”

The proposed zoning category, called “Town Zoning,” was brought forward by Commissioner Greg Anderson. He pointed at the difficult zoning cases the commission has had to work through recently because of the city’s outdated LDC.

“This will help us get a lot of housing units — and whatever else makes sense for certain sites — in places where we can’t do those things today because we don’t have the tools to do them,” Anderson said.

The City of Austin has faced challenges in overhauling its LDC. In 2019, despite the council voting to move forward with changes, a lawsuit by 19 Austin residents brought the process to a halt.

Still, incoming members of city council largely ran on changes to city zoning processes including an overhaul of the LDC to get the city back on track with its affordable housing goals.

“This is a tool in a toolbox to help us work with what we have because we know that those big, broad strokes of reform are probably not happening,” said Commissioner Felicity Maxwell, a co-sponsor of the item.

Now that the item has passed the commission, it next goes to city staff — who have been instructed to draft language. It will then go back to several committees before going before the city council.

“This is just for staff to consider as a starting point,” Anderson said.

Alter believes the item would be well received by the council and said he’s working on similar proposals.

“The ability to trade more height or more building in order to achieve more affordable housing is something that we want to promote. And this is just another way of doing it,” Alter said.