Central Austin homeowners shudder at new land use code rules – News – Austin American-Statesman
Stephanie Ryan has lived in Allandale for 16 years. When she bought her house and devoted her time and finances to the house she would retire in, she thought she was investing in a quiet area.
But now, Ryan fears that Austin’s revised Land Development Code, which will add nearly 400,000 homes to Austin, mainly through multi-unit housing developments along major urban corridors, could crowd too many people into the area and put an unsustainable strain on the infrastructure and area for homeowners and forever change the place she calls home.
Ryan’s neighborhood on Burnet Road is one of those that contain so-called transition areas in the new draft code. These areas are on the edge of neighborhoods and sometimes several plots deep in neighborhoods alongside large corridors or city centers where city planners have identified opportunities to connect more people to work, transit and services. Where there are many single-family houses today, the new constitution would allow apartments or condominiums with four or six units – with up to 10 units, if developers opt for an affordable housing bonus program.
Ryan fears that such dense development could overload the surrounding infrastructure, increase noise pollution and lead to heavily congested streets with parked cars. The new code reduces parking requirements, which would mean more cars are parked on the neighborhood streets, she said. Such changes could be enough to drive them away.
“The idea of having 20 residents in a row along the street, for example, packed in the vehicles they have on a fifth-acre property is way too much for me to want to live here,” she said .
Ryan’s fears echo those of many homeowners across town. Residents of Central Austin City Council, District 9, packed up the town hall Thursday night to learn more about the code and interview city guides at the first public town hall since the 1,300-page code was revealed last week. District 9 comprises downtown and extends south to St. Edward’s University and north to 51st Street. Community members raised concerns about possible soaring property valuations that were crowding them out, increased impervious cover that resulted in more flooding, and a lack of ability to protest the new zoning.
Brent Lloyd, a leader in the city’s code re-writing process, said the right to change petition zones does not apply to full, city-wide redistributions, so property owners have no recourse if they don’t like the zoning of their homes. Instead, landowners can raise their concerns by reaching out to their city council representatives, city officials, or attending one of the few public forums slated for November, two of which are for residents across the city. The others are specific to parishes.
District 9th councilor Kathie Tovo told voters at Thursday’s session that if she had her way, she would want a longer process to go through the draft giant code before voting, but the council is expected to make a decision in December.
District 7 councilor Leslie Pool shared similar thoughts in a newsletter to her constituents, including Ryan.
“First, I continue to believe this process lacks transparency and time for public input and discussion. The CodeNEXT project stalled over the past year in large part because of a community engagement plan that the community was not listening to, and one public process that demonstrated little respect for public contributions, “said Pool, whose district is east of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and extends from 45th Street to Howard Lane in the north.
“Not much has changed,” she wrote. “This time the process is even faster due to the timetable set by the majority of the city council and there is little opportunity for public engagement for the draft code.”
According to City Hall on Thursday, Michael Biechlin, who lives near East 40th and Duval Streets in District 9, said homeowners just don’t feel heard.
“There was a presentation, questions were asked and answers were often answered in complicated ‘city planner’ jargon or in circles, which always led back to ‘guided by the council’. It feels a lot like the decision was made with the new code and we are now going through the charade of doing what the residents of the world want, “he said.
Biechlin said changes in his neighborhood could be drastic. On both sides of Duval, from the University of Texas campus to Koenig Lane, most of the lots are designated as transition areas that would allow four to six unit developments – and even denser development through loyalty programs.
Biechlin said he lived on a short street with 28 residents and parking was already “a nightmare”. He said he viewed the code as speculation and an opportunity for developers to quickly turn over properties in order to make more money with more units.
While the new code would provide capacity for nearly 400,000 new housing units, city planners have also dramatically expanded the neighborhoods where affordable housing bonus programs are available. The current code includes approximately 5,600 acres of land on which bonuses are available. This means developers can build taller or denser buildings if they carve out some for low-income housing. The new code expands this area to 30,600 acres, which could equate to roughly 9,000 affordable units.
However, many District 9 residents said they didn’t expect new housing to be affordable in areas like Hyde Park and Hancock.
Proponents of the new code say it’s not perfect, but new rules are absolutely necessary to manage a city that has grown 47% through 65 years of growth, from 656,562 people in 2000 to 964,254 people in 2018.
“We have all of these goals of housing, transit, environmental stewardship, and each and every one of those goals is endlessly hampered by our 1984 Land Development Code,” said Greg Anderson, Austin Affordable Housing Attorney. “And the question now is, is Austin ready and do we have the vision and guidance to get out of the way and adopt a code that is better for all Austinites?”
Kevin McLaughlin, chairman of the land use committee of Aura, a grassroots group of Austin city dwellers, said he was excited about transition zones in central and west Austin, places where he has long needed cheaper housing. McLaughlin also said he is pleased that the new draft code is encouraging moves away from single-family homes in favor of multi-family homes and lowering minimum parking requirements.
“We think the first draft is a really strong step in the right direction,” he said, noting that the changes are likely years, if not decades, away. “It won’t happen overnight … and no one can make you do something to your home that you don’t want.”
The Austin Planning Commission will issue a public statement on the new code on October 26th. The first public hearing before the Council is scheduled for December 7th.