IN-DEPTH: Common questions about Austin’s Land Development Code changes, upzoning and property value appraisal

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council is now less than two weeks away from taking its first vote on overhauling the city’s Land Development Code (LDC). The code dictates what kind of buildings can be built, depending on where you are in the city.

The LDC revision team released the proposed update on Oct. 4. Since then, the staff has held numerous meetings and public input sessions.

“The bottom line for us is that the current code is really kind of a disaster,” said Conor Kenney, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission. “We have all this flooding, gentrification, sprawl. So the cost of not acting is tremendously high.”

The proposal aims to increase the housing supply and affordability. Some tools it utilizes to achieve that goal include:

  • Making density bonus programs more widely available
  • Increasing density in “transition zones,” which are near major transit corridors
  • Increasing density in “high opportunity areas,” which are neighborhoods near schools, grocery stores and/or bus routes
  • Allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) — commonly called granny flats — across the city

Since the draft was released in October, many people have been voicing their concerns, especially about how upzoning might affect their neighborhoods.

CodeNEXT is back sign
‘CodeNEXT is back’ sign. (KXAN photo/Candy Rodriguez)

Single-family lots changing to allow duplexes, triplexes, etc.

If the proposal passes, some single-family lots in Austin could have two, four or even up to six units of housing per lot.

“To be honest, we feel a little threatened by the code,” said David Guarino. His street’s zoning is set to change under the proposed update.

In southwest Austin, Ganttcrest Drive is changing, so each lot on one side of the street can have buildings with up to four units. The current zoning for both sides of the street is single-family.

“I’m mainly concerned with how it’ll impact traffic, schools in the area and then just how it might affect property taxes moving forward,” said Leslie Adkins.

Adkins said she has a daughter who’s in kindergarten, and many of her neighbors also have young children. “There’s already portables at her elementary school, so bringing in more people, it seems like infrastructure should’ve been addressed first,” she said.

Annick Beaudet, co-lead of the LDC revision team, said Ganttcrest Drive’s upzoning is due to it being a “high opportunity area.” It’s close to schools and a local bus route.

Beaudet then explained that not every lot will see buildings that hit the maximum zoning capacity.

She said if a street’s zoning is changing to allow for up to four units per lot, the way they look at it is if you can fit four units, that’s appropriate for that neighborhood, but it’s also possible that you might only get two or three units and get what you can out of that lot.

According to Beaudet, the limitations could come from:

  • The size of the lot
  • Heritage Tree Ordinance
  • Impervious cover regulations
  • Front and backyard setbacks

KXAN spoke with Steven Pedigo, Director of UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs Urban Lab. “When you think about Austin, by 2030, we’re going to be over three million people. Estimated. The city itself will probably be 1.5 million people. That’s adding another 500,000 people,” he said. “So we as a community are in this conversation about where are we going to put people.”

He said this is a new challenge many cities are facing.

Starting about a year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, experimented with eliminating all single-family zoning.

Pedigo said while it’s only been a year, so far, Minneapolis hasn’t seen any large developments in residential neighborhoods. “Some lots will go six units. Some lots will go three units. Some lots will be duplexes, and some lots will stay the same,” he said.

According to Pedigo, the big question will be what the market demands. “I do think there is a bit of a reality check that you have to think through, he explained. “That is to think about what the market suggests. What is the market going to allow.”

He said in some neighborhoods, even if it’s upzoned, the only desired type of housing may be single-family homes or duplexes.

“I think, we’ll see, it’s not necessarily the idea of six floors or six unit development in our interior neighborhoods, but what I think we’ll see is some greater density along our transportation corridors,” Pedigo said. “Think about vacant lots, parking lots. In the City of Austin, there’s a lot of available land that’s under utilized.”

But Adkins said leaving it up to the market still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. “It just seems like that’s leaving a lot of questions on the table,” she said. “You would think that the housing market, it’s so volatile anyway.”

Land Development Code and property value appraisal

Many homeowners said they’re also concerned about how the proposed changes will impact their appraised property values, which, in turn, affect how much they pay in taxes.

“We anticipate that it’s going to be quite a while before appraisal is impacted by it,” said Marya Crigler, Chief Appraiser at Travis Central Appraisal District.

Crigler said right now, there isn’t any data to suggest the new code will drive home values up or down. The way TCAD appraises properties is looking at what they think a property will sell for on January 1.

“We look at sales information,” she said. “Our work is always done in retrospect, so we’re looking in hindsight at sales that occurred in the previous year and using that data to determine our market values.”

According to Crigler, what she can tell us now is that if you live on a street that gets upzoned and your nextdoor neighbor’s home becomes a triplex, their property appraisal won’t affect yours.

“If it sells and we know that it’s going to be transitioned to a triplex, then it gets removed from the sample set altogether because then it becomes part of our triplex model data, not our single family model data.”

But that new scenario next door could affect the sale price. Adkins is thinking about that possibility since one side of her street may change from single-family to up to four units per lot.

“Makes me think that our property value might be lower because you can pick any other house literally in the subdivision and not have to worry about traffic or congestion or noise from possibly far more people across the street. That’s a concern of ours,” she said.

What’s next?

The Planning Commission reviewed and approved amendments to the LDC draft.

City officials said they’re reviewing those amendments and will release the most up-to-date version of the LDC draft next Monday. That means there is a possibility some streets’ zoning proposals may change.

City Council is scheduled to review the draft beginning Dec. 3. A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7 and the council may take its first reading vote on Dec. 9.

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