Austin Blocked Apartments by Houses for Years. New Rules Would Change That.

Code change would facilitate 60,000+ new units, city staff estimates


City Council’s special meeting on proposed changes to density regulations last December (photo by Jana Birchum)

Toward the end of a 31-page staff report summarizing proposed changes to the city’s compatibility rules is a line that helps explain why City Council has demanded they change: “Compatibility has functioned as an exclusionary tool that perpetuates existing patterns of segregation, reducing housing choice within High Opportunity areas by limiting height of multifamily developments,” the report reads.

Translation: For four decades, these rules have made it harder, and sometimes impossible, to build apartments near single-family homes. Proposed amendments to those rules could drastically reduce that effect and enable more development of multifamily housing in some of the most expensive parts of Austin.

Currently, compatibility rules limit the height of buildings constructed within a 540-foot radius of a single-family home; the new rules would reduce that buffer zone to 75 feet. Under the new rules, buildings close to houses could also hold more floors. Right now, buildings within 50 to 100 feet are restricted to roughly four stories. Buildings in the newly proposed buffer zone could be roughly six stories tall.

“Compatibility has functioned as an exclusionary tool that perpetuates existing patterns of segregation.”  – City staff report on HOME changes

Staff estimates that the new compatibility rules could enable the construction of nearly 63,000 housing units that would have been prohibited under the old rules. Much of that new housing could be built near amenities like grocery stores, city parks, Austin ISD schools, and child care facilities. About 56,000 new housing units could be built within a half-mile of two or more of those amenities, staff found.

The reduction in compatibility rules will make the most profound impacts on land in Central and West Austin (Council Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10), where many of the city’s most expensive and exclusive single-family neighborhoods exist.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, HOME, Land Development Code, zoning

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