New Austin Land Development Code rules take shape this week

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New Land Development Code rules started to take shape Monday.

The code defines the rules for what and where you can build in the city. It has not had a major overhaul in three decades. This current process is the city’s latest attempt to overhaul the code.

Council will vote on the first of three required readings for the adoption of a new  Land Development Code. The vote was scheduled for Monday, but after about eight hours of discussion, council decided to reconvene Tuesday at 9 a.m. The vote could be postponed until as late as Wednesday. The second two readings should happen in January or later, according to a timeline from the city.

Some of the proposed revisions to the city’s development code focus on slowing gentrification in east Austin, and adding more housing density near central and west Austin, and increasing affordable housing stock across the city.

Council members spent the day talking through amendments to the revised land code draft. Each council member had an opportunity to share amendments they’ve proposed, and some of those amendments have been flagged for further discussion. As many different documents have led to the creation of the draft code and to these amendments, many council members expressed confusion throughout the day over which amendments were being suggested and how they’d fit together.

One back-and-forth exchange had to do with adding sidewalks and a parking lane next to schools.

“For those properties right up against the school I really want to push for getting a sidewalk where those don’t exist and then there being less–more on-street parking where there is parking, I think makes things safer,” said Council Member Greg Casar.

Alison Alter disagreed.

“I can’t think of a single school in my district that doesn’t have a sidewalk in the front and they have the problems now and then… If you have everyone parking in the streets, you just make it worse,” she said.

In the end, the amendment was tabled, with a request for more information.

“Truth of the matter is parking is never an issue at my kids’ school and there’s very little of it. But it works for our school so I’d like to make sure we have examples of both ends of it, where it works and where it doesn’t,” said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

Council Member Greg Casar noted that according to his personal tally Monday afternoon, that the dozens of proposed amendments would amount to around twenty hours of work if they took fifteen minutes each to approve. Council Member Pool will not be present Tuesday and she urged the council to pause on voting until Wednesday when she could be in attendance.

Council’s deliberation this week follows Saturday’s 10-hour hearing where hundreds of people showed up to hear and speak about recommendations.

Austin’s City Council has the final decision on the approval of the land development code changes. 

The land code rewrite also stands to impact property values, although the chief appraiser of the Travis Central Appraisal District admitted that right now they have no idea how the Land Development Code will impact property values.

Leading up to this point

In May, Austin City Council gave city staff direction on what to prioritize with this overhaul of the city’s land development code.

On October 4, city staff published a draft of the code overhaul as well as interactive maps of the proposed zoning changes. City staff proposed more revisions in a report on October 25.

The city says they got public feedback via open houses, office hours, public testing, town halls, but that they can’t quantify exactly how many people weighed in on the draft. Based on what the public said and based on the Planning Commission’s recommendations, city staff crafted a report to guide council.

In the report, staff recommends more strategies to reach the city’s goals for this land-use code revamp. The goals touched on by the recommendations include adding density, boosting affordability, curbing displacement/ gentrification, adding density near transit “high opportunity areas”, and incentivizing the creation of “missing middle housing” (multi-unit housing, anything from duplexes all the way up to apartment buildings).

City council members explained during Monday’s discussion that the recommendations from the Planning Commission which city staff agreed with have been included in the base document that council is voting on.

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