Naked City

TOD Gets First Nod

The Austin City Council gave the proposed Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance a first nod on Thursday night, with the caveat that the ordinance will come back to Council on March 24 with additional language to address how affordable housing will be integrated into station plans and how consultants would be instructed to roll out those plans.

The TOD ordinance, intended to govern the zoning and development of seven stops along Capital Metro's Leander-to-Downtown commuter rail line, has seen its share of changes since December. At Thursday night's meeting, planner George Adams presented another seven pages of amendments that tinkered with the ordinance: Height requirements are suggested, rather than required; single-family residential will be allowed in the transition zone; the role of neighborhood associations in the planning process is stressed; and a goal of 25% affordable housing has been set for each station plan.

Neighborhood groups, especially in areas where neighborhood plans have been established, have been skittish about the TOD proposal. Council Member Raul Alvarez voiced some of those concerns and asked for more clarity on the process before a second and third reading on the ordinance. New language in the ordinance requires a "feasibility analysis" for affordable housing around each station stop, suggesting strategies to maintain affordable homeowner and rental leasing on a 10- and 30-year horizon. Alvarez would like to see affordable housing pegged to the income around each station. Affordable housing around the Saltillo Plaza station in East Austin, for example, shouldn't cost the same as the affordable housing around the Northwest Park-and-Ride, he said.

The amount of work that has gone into the TOD zoning ordinance is intriguing, given the fact that the initial ridership is projected at no more than 17,000 trips per day. This is not a Dallas or Houston light rail line; it's a 32-mile commuter rail into and out of the city primarily during rush hour. But as the overall transit plan rolls out in the region, these TOD stops will accommodate not only the Leander line but also rapid bus and possibly commuter rail between Georgetown and San Antonio.

Spokesman Rick L'Amie of Capital Metro, who was at Thursday night's meeting, said Capital Metro was moving forward with a study of possible transit options to connect to the UT-Capitol-Downtown and Mueller corridors. A scope of study has been defined, and the Capital Metro board of directors will approve a citizen advisory group for each site this month, L'Amie said.

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