Public Notice: Opening Up Pandora’s Box

A look inside the Land Development Code revision progress

Public Notice: Opening Up Pandora’s Box

City Council and the public are beginning to get their first look at what the drafters are planning for the next (and possibly final) draft of the Land Development Code Revision. That process started Tuesday morning at the Council's Housing and Planning Committee meeting, where staff gave a presentation on "zoning, as it pertains to housing capacity," as presenter Annick Beaudet of the Austin Transportation Depart­ment put it. The 20-minute presentation, followed by about 15 minutes of questioning from the Council members, yielded no surprises, but did give some hints at how the drafters are planning on meeting the policy directions Council provided in the spring and how they're going to work out some of the thornier problems that have to be settled.

In addition, staff has been building out its LDC Revision website, which includes a staff directory, a workflow timeline, and a new LDC Revision Blog. The first substantive post on the latter is titled, "What happens to existing single-family homes in a new transition area?" and it addresses one of the major fears of the central code skeptics in a point that was reiterated Tuesday: Staff will propose that no new single-family homes will be allowed to be built in multifamily zones (such as in all transition zones near transit corridors), but existing single-family homes in those zones will not be considered nonconforming. Such homes could be updated, remodeled, or added onto, (such as accessory dwelling units), but if torn down, they would have to be replaced with multifamily. And lead presenter Brent Lloyd of the Development Services Department stressed that staff is working on preservation incentives to make it easier to modify, build on, or add ADUs to existing residential units, in order to keep existing housing stock from being torn down.

Another point that was stressed during the presentation was that at least two dwelling units will be allowed in every residential zoning category. Committee Chair Greg Casar was at pains to point out that's technically the case now, as ADUs are allowed in some conditions in all zoning categories – but the reality is, ADUs are banned throughout most properties zoned SF-1 and SF-2, which includes most of West and Southwest Austin, and outlying areas. If that changes under the new code and ADUs and perhaps duplexes become permitted across Pemberton Heights and other wealthy enclaves, expect public squawking and backroom arm-twisting from those quarters. But Council did include the direction that growth in housing capacity should be spread throughout the city, and central neighborhoods have complained throughout that they're being asked to bear an unfair and illogical share.

Jimmy Flannigan hastened to confirm, for the benefit of his own constituents, that "to be clear: For better or for worse, none of this changes a community's deed restrictions." Flan­nigan has noted more than once that much of his own district won't be affected by whatever changes are made in the new code because the properties have deed restrictions, which often mandate single-family homes on large lots, and prohibit any types of ADUs, duplexes, or multifamily or mixed use. (Ironically, he's been one of the most aggressive voices advocating across-the-board upzoning for center-city neighborhoods that don't have such deed restrictions.)

The next major presentation will be to the Council Mobility Committee, at 1pm next Wednesday, Aug. 21. Beaudet promised there would be more info coming then, including how her Transportation staff is addressing the build-out of the sidewalk network, especially in transition zones, given the new parking regulations that will be part of the LDC revision.

You can watch Tuesday's Committee meeting and presentation here.

The Montopolis Recreation Center is scheduled to close its doors at 4pm on Saturday, Aug. 17, to allow the next phase of construction to begin on the new recreation and community center, scheduled to open at the end of summer 2020. Its programs will continue, meanwhile, at Allison Elementary and Ruiz Library; see for details on the programs and the project.

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