City Council District 7: Land-Use Politics Take Center Stage
In the race for District 7 in Central and North Austin, incumbent Leslie Pool has drawn a sole challenger in Morgan Witt, an educator and first-time political candidate whose campaign prioritizes housing and land use – Austin's perennial hotbed of divisiveness, both on and off the dais.
Overall, Witt's views on land use remain rooted in updating the Land Development Code to allow for more compact and dense housing as a means to address Austin's housing shortage. "We need to diversify housing options or we're never going to stop the sprawl outside of our city limits," she said. In order to make Austin more affordable for middle- and low-income families, Witt supports easing zoning restrictions in Central Austin's single-family neighborhoods.
That point of contrast between the two candidates has put Pool, who has historically favored limiting upzoning, in the position to answer for her vote with the Council minority against proposed revisions to the LDC rewrite. Pool said her goal was to find a middle course in a battle where "the lines that were drawn ... have been really divisive." Rather than making blanket uniform changes to zoning, Pool has voiced support of approaching land use through small area planning of groups of adjacent neighborhoods: "It's not as granular as neighborhood plans," she said, "but you bring all those folks in and they have literal, boots-on-the-ground knowledge about their neighborhoods; they know where the problems are, they know where the successes are."
In response to questions about navigating zoning protests and distributing affordable housing citywide, Pool argues the city can only do so much when bound by state law. "The city is limited to implementing only voluntary bonus programs, so we can't do anything other than incentivize, and we don't have enough money," she said. Witt acknowledges the limitations at the state level, but supports looking into other areas where the city might try to address affordable housing outside of the LDC, offering amending Imagine Austin, the city's 30-year comprehensive plan, as a place to start.
If reelected, Pool said she's committed to supporting a LDC revision in conformance with Imagine Austin, and "not the other way around." She views efforts like small area planning as an opportunity for the city to begin to "build the trust back up" on how Austin approaches land use. "Because that's what the city's gonna have to do, as the city's broken trust with the electorate."