A Dense Discussion
Downtown density debate to unfold on dais tomorrow
By Wells Dunbar,
2:17PM, Wed. Dec. 7, 2011
One City Council agenda item we neglected to mention Monday - because it deserves its own post - is the re-re-return of the Downtown Austin Plan. And we got a preview of philosophical disagreement over one of the plan's biggest sticking points – the Downtown density bonus program – at a council work session Tuesday.
We'll have more on the density wrangling in this week's column, but, suffice to say, the question over whether Downtown density itself is a benefit is as hot a question as ever.
Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison sounded decided agnostic on the question, saying regardless of its community benefits (reduced sprawl, to name a big one), it still created a financial incentive for developers that should be shared with the city. Said Tovo, “When you have a developer who has purchased a lot to go 60 feet, and they’ve suddenly doubled that – there’s an increasing financial benefit to that developer. Some of that economic benefit should be returned to the public in the form of a community benefit.”
Lee Leffingwell argued that “the additional density, in and of itself, is a community benefit,” noting that “the Downtown area subsidizes the rest of the city” and “produces more money for services than they use … The calibration formula you come up with [for future density bonus projects] should address some part of the community benefit” density itself produces.
Taking a middle-ground approach was Bill Spelman, noting “On balance, I think the benefits [of density] exceed the costs.”
It'll be fun to see how much discord this presents on the dais tomorrow. We'll be live-tweeting the proceedings; in the meantime, bone up on the discussion by eying the presentation council received at their work session.