Austin Is Ready For Land Development Reform

Austin Is Ready For Land Development Reform

It’s very exciting to see so many Council Members in agreement with the City Manager’s approach to reform our land code and that we will quickly be discussing and taking action on key policy issues. It is important that the Council provide clear direction on key policy drivers at the start will help City Staff draft a new Land Development Code that not only meets the objectives of our community but reflects our City’s values. I also agree that we should confirm areas where there is broad consensus in addition to areas which there is more debate. It’s important to show that as divisive as zoning can be, there is more agreement than dissent to the community. I believe most of us agree that Austin is facing a three-pronged crisis of housing, transportation, and affordability that requires immediate innovative and sophisticated action.

Last year when my office authored the resolution to terminate “CodeNEXT”, it was in part because by the time the process reached the council dais, it was too far down the road to see a path forward on how it could address the critical challenges facing our City. This new process flips that on its head and has us decide the hardest questions of these issues up front, making me much more confident in the product we will see at the end.

We are at an unprecedented nexus of our City’s future and possibly the most consequential time since Save Our Springs. This is a unique moment to approve both a new city-wide mobility plan and a new land development code that will work in conjunction for the next three to four decades and shape the future of our City. Click the sections below to see the questions I think are important to deliberate at the beginning and hopefully where we can start taking votes.

We have a lot of work ahead of us but I have full faith that we can accomplish it together as a Council and a community. In our hands we hold what the future of our City will look like and how we and our neighbors will live in it. Let’s not let it slip away.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan

Philosophical Questions

  • How long do we expect this code revision to last compared to the timelines of the reports we are relying upon? The Blueprint (135k units) is 10 years. The ASMP is 15+ years. Our strategic direction is just 5 years. A 2020 transit bond could represent decades of future investment. Land Development Codes typically last 30 years. To what extent are we zoning for a 10 year future or a 30 year future?
  • To that end, is it possible to develop tools that support incremental development that “levels up” once certain targets are reached? This could allow zoning to naturally evolve over time in response to on-the-ground conditions.
  • How will we be measuring this process through the lens of justice, equity, and the systemic racism that underpins Austin’s zoning history?

Policy Questions

  • Form-based vs Use-based: Do we want a form-based code or an Euclidean (use-based) Code? How can we get away from regulating uses through zoning categories and move towards regulating uses through policy driven conditions defined in code? Examples: (1) The city’s current policy related to the sale of alcohol within 300 feet of certain types of properties. (2) Codifying that no residential units can be located within 1,000 feet of facilities with hazardous material. Through zoning I would like us start with regulating the scale of buildings and avoid site-specific use restrictions so that buildings can be more adaptable.
  • Yield vs Forecast vs Capacity: If our City’s goal is to yield 135,000 new residential units then what is the level of capacity and forecast we need to approve? I think we need to introduce this 3rd order assumption (Yield) into how we get to 135k units in 10 years. Forecast doesn’t account for many other issues that can inhibit an entitled property to develop or redevelop. This has been especially true for much of the greenfield area in D6 which, while sufficiently entitled, has not developed in the decades since those entitlements were granted.  So if the desired “Yield” is 135k, then should the forecast be 2x, 3x, or etc. of the yield? And should the capacity then be 2x, 3x, or etc. of the forecast?
  • Transit Supportive Density: What are the needed transit-supportive density targets (17 people+jobs/acre for bus, 54 for transit) to help prioritize new units? How do we designate the areas where we want to apply the transit-supportive density targets? How do we insure that we get the transit-supportive density when it is applied?
  • Impervious Cover vs Drainage Requirements: Acknowledging that I believe there was broad support for increased drainage requirements, what is the value of impervious cover as an indicator compared to measuring actual run-off or drainage infrastructure? Should impervious cover be a limiting factor for new housing if we require drainage infrastructure that fully captures run-off?
  • Parking: In addition to eliminating parking minimums city-wide, how might we adopt parking maximums for developments near transit investments? How do we ensure sufficient ADA accessible parking (including either off-street or converting on-street public parking)? How do we encourage parking for shared-use vehicles (TDM)?
  • FAR: What is the role of Floor-to-Area Ratio (FAR) in a form-based code? What does FAR achieve that is not already accomplished through height, setback, and building cover limitations?
  • Lot size/width: What is the value of defining a minimum lot size or width considering that any development would have to comply other regulations including driveway widths, building scale (setbacks, drainage, etc)?
  • Compatibility: What should the role of compatibility be? Is there a role for compatibility that instead of reducing the entitlements of the denser zoned property it increases the entitlements of portions of adjacent less-entitled properties?
  • Administrative Process: How can we define administrative variances to help support our city goals during the site development process? (Example: could we provide City Staff with some percentage range of flexibility in setbacks to save a heritage tree thereby ensuring the construction of a residential unit?)
  • McMansion: Should we support modifications to McMansion regulations which would shrink the envelope for a tear-down-new-construction single-family home but would expand the envelope for a house-scale 2 or 3 unit building?
  • Affordability: Should we codify the “Affordability Unlocked” policy our City Staff is currently working on? Could this policy be expanded to accomplish additional goals?
  • Should we support housing in commercial zoning?
  • Should we revisit the Parkland Dedication Ordinance and Parkland Dedication Operating Procedures?
  • Are there parts of neighborhood plans that cannot be codified in zoning? If so how can we address them?