Public Notice: Mapping Our Transitions

Staff briefing starts to put corridor rezoning in focus

Public Notice: Mapping Our Transitions

Along with everything else they've got on their plate (see "City Council Moves Along From the Ballot to the Budget," Aug. 30), City Council held a special called meeting on the Land Development Code Revision update on Wednesday (Aug. 28) to hear a staff presentation, with a focus on transition areas, the Downtown plan, and parking.

The Downtown part of the presentation was pretty straightforward: The current zoning would remain largely unchanged, and the Downtown Austin Plan would be adopted into code, with minor tweaks. The "Downtown Density Bonus Program remains [an] appealing option," read one slide, though that program is somewhat more generous than those in other parts of town.

The parking strategy, presented by the Trans­port­­ation Department's Annick Beaudet, was similarly uncomplicated: "Parking not required within ¼ mile of centers, corridors, or Transit Priority Net­work if on an accessible route. Some parking or other sidewalk mitigation may be required if not on an accessible route." That last bit refers to sidewalk considerations, as sidewalks are deemed a safety need in the absence of off-street parking. In addition, the new code will recommend setting maximum parking limits citywide.

Then came the transition areas, and transition zones. Con­sultant Peter Park led off by saying he "wants to clarify several things about transition areas," that is, the areas where staff plans to "map new missing middle housing [small multiplexes, townhomes, and the like] ... adjacent to activity centers, activity corridors, or the transit priority network." The lead slide in his presentation defined the task: "Apply missing middle zones in transition areas based on Council criteria through data-driven and context sensitive consideration."

Park described the data-driven part of the consideration as being an "Accumulative Approach": The relative width and density of a transition area would be generally based on how it rated in four key criteria – whether the area:

is on a transit network;

is in the urban core;

has a well-connected street grid;

is in an opportunity district, as currently defined.

Based on Council's direction that the transition areas be mapped two to five lots deep off of corridors, if an area meets all four criteria, "That's how staff knows where to map five deep," said Park. (Though one slide clearly showed that Council's two-to-five-lot direction is being interpreted as about 850 feet, which might be as much as 15 lots deep.)

The next step is "a Contextual Approach," as Planning & Zoning's Lacey Patterson explained in general terms: how varying lot depths, flood plains, or other topography might change the depth of the transition area off of a corridor.

Once the transition areas are defined, staff explained, they'll be mapping two different zoning categories. The lower intensity zone would allow four units per lot, with a 35-foot height limit [ed. note: or 45 feet with a density bonus], while the higher intensity one, closer to the corridor or center, would allow six units, and 45 feet in height. In both cases, four extra units would be allowed with affordable housing density bonuses, which have yet to be calibrated. ("In most cases, it would not be that all four of the units would be affordable," one staffer clarified. That's likely a considerable understatement, and the question of just how much affordable housing this will produce is a matter of much dispute.)

Beaudet hinted that staff might be wanting to increase impervious cover allowances in some zones, despite Council's earlier assurances that this would not be on the table. The rationale is that more impervious cover in some places could be offset by reductions in others, so that the city's overall impervious cover remains unchanged. But those calculations are still in the works, said Beaudet, and the whole concept of impervious cover swapping is usually met with considerable skepticism in environmental circles. Be that as it may, further questioning from Council clarified that staff is planning for impervious cover limits to be raised throughout the transition zones: from the current 45%, to 50% and 60% for the envisioned two zoning categories.

Beaudet noted near the end that by the end of September, staff will be ready to set up presentations for each of the CMs, showing the transition areas and zones in their districts.

"October is going to be a very, very busy month," she said.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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