Potential Policy Direction for Land Development Code Rewrite

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Steve Adler
Posts: 301
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:12 pm

Potential Policy Direction for Land Development Code Rewrite

Post by Steve Adler » Mon Nov 18, 2019 9:14 am


In advance of the staff’s planned November 25th release of a subsequent staff supplemental report, Council Member Alter and I would like to share some areas we hope staff will examine and consider adjusting. Several colleagues have noted some of the following issues during previous work sessions, but we thought it might be useful to post them to the message board as potential policy direction that could be included in the supplemental report, or as council policy direction at 1st reading.

1. Residential house-scale zones and transition zones: we should consider re-calibrating FAR and FAR exemptions in these zones if we want to achieve our shared objective of modest, attainable homes rather than giant, expensive homes.

The new code should count attics and garages toward total FAR (and potentially consider elimination of other FAR exemptions) in Residential house-scale zones and transition zones to reduce the size of house-scale buildings, unless it can be demonstrated that elimination of an exemption substantially reduces housing unit capacity.

The new code should include an updated and clear definition of ‘Residential Unit’ so that only spaces truly meant for separate habitation are included in unit counts.

2. Preservation Bonus: we do not believe the current draft preservation bonus is calibrated to achieve our shared goals around affordability, preservation of existing, older housing stock, and gently increasing density with smaller units. The October 4th draft increases FAR for duplexes and allows an unlimited FAR for the preservation bonus unit.

The new code should include adjustments to the proposed requirements and standards for Preservation Bonuses (including, without limitation, allowances for FAR and how much of an existing structure may be demolished and still be considered a ‘preserved’ structure) as may be necessary to achieve greater feasibility of the Preservation bonus, while incentivizing smaller units, prohibiting construction of units that exceed current McMansion limits, and minimizing increased flood risk.

3. Affordability Requirements: We continue to have properties that currently are zoned for only commercial uses that do not have the right to build residential uses today that were mapped in this draft to allow for residential uses by-right without an affordability requirement. These parcels are in high-opportunity areas and represent a missed opportunity for obtaining income-restricted affordable housing. We'd like that changed to follow council's consistently stated intentions and goals of capturing income-restricted affordable housing. We have ambitious goals in this area and we can't miss these opportunities. From the May 2, 2019 Council Direction: “Residential uses should be allowed in commercial zoning categories. Draft 3 mapping included affordability requirements for commercial properties where residential uses are not permitted and these requirements should be maintained in the new draft.”

The new code should require participation in an affordable housing bonus program for residential development on sites that are currently zoned for commercial uses only.

4. Regional Centers: It does not appear that our current mapping sufficiently allows for additional growth in housing capacity within Imagine Austin Regional Centers as called for in our adopted comprehensive plan and the May 2nd council direction.

The mapping of increased entitlements in gentrifying areas should be further reduced and any resulting reduction of housing capacity should be mitigated by additional mapping of entitlements to allow for new missing middle housing within Imagine Austin Regional Centers (except those that currently have a regulating plan and are to be mapped F25) in high opportunity areas, or that are located in undeveloped (greenfield) areas.

We request staff provide an assessment of the impact on housing capacity of the above policy direction.

5. Corridors: Not all corridors share identical characteristics, and the mapping of missing middle housing in transition areas should reflect that context. We have discussed concerns with the mapping of transition areas on transit priority network corridors that are primarily residential, but there may be other contextual features of a given corridor to consider, such as a realistic assessment of existing and future transit demand.

The mapping of transition areas along corridors that are primarily residential in character shall be adjusted to include the lot with corridor frontage within the transition area, thus generally reducing the currently mapped transition area by the depth of at least one lot.

The mapping of transition areas shall be further reduced or eliminated along segments of corridors within the Transit Priority Network that are:
- not the primary intended transit ridership generators for the corridor – for example areas that are primarily opportunities for transit vehicles to make turning movements in order to reverse direction or serve other destinations, and are susceptible to elimination of service, or
- are primarily low-density residential areas that are located along a corridor in between areas that are higher ridership generators.

6. Development Reserve: The current code has a Development Reserve category. The new proposed code does not carry that category forward. As a result, there are properties zoned Development Reserve today that need a new proposed zoning designation. In subdivisions where unbuildable areas, such as green spaces owned by HOAs, are currently zoned Development Reserve, staff applied the same zoning as the adjacent neighborhood properties. These areas should instead be zoned to reflect their status as unbuildable open spaces.

Areas currently zoned as Development Reserve that are to be maintained as undevelopable open space for the foreseeable future should be mapped F25 or with a zoning district to reflect their unbuildable status.

In addition, several of our colleagues have expressed a concern about the mapping of increased entitlements in areas where our Watershed Protection Department has documented localized flooding. We request staff examine this issue and determine how housing capacity would be impacted if equivalent existing entitlements were maintained in areas with documented localized flooding.

Mayor Adler
Council Member Alter

Lauren Hartnett
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed May 22, 2019 2:13 pm

Re: Potential Policy Direction for Land Development Code Rewrite

Post by Lauren Hartnett » Tue Nov 19, 2019 5:18 pm

On behalf of Council Member Harper-Madison:

Thank you Mayor Adler and Council Member Alter for collecting these items for discussion. As I was under the weather on Monday morning, I appreciate the opportunity to add to the dialogue.

•Our new land development code (LDC) should support the creation of not just residential subdivisions but complete neighborhood communities that offer walkable access to basic amenities such as daycares, schools, pharmacies, neighborhood groceries, eateries, civic spaces, etc.

•We must encourage more sustainable growth and the preservation of existing open space by incentivizing infill development. Austin’s outdated, car-centric land development code, coupled with our rapid growth, has exacerbated sprawl, forcing many residents to take on long commutes. As a result, vehicle emissions in Austin have increased by a stunning 178 percent since 1990. In order to address our climate reality, significant changes need to be made to how we plan our communities and transportation systems. Climate researchers have reached a similar conclusion, finding “infill” housing (housing built in urban areas, near transit, jobs and services) can reduce greenhouse gas pollution more effectively than any other option, including electric cars (Jones, Wheeler, Kammen, 2018).

•The preservation bonus has the potential to be a great tool to help incentivize infill development and allow more families and individuals the opportunity to live in central Austin while maintaining the visual character of older neighborhoods. Because it could also provide opportunities to help existing homeowners stay in their communities, the preservation bonus should be designed as a tool that is accessible to the community at large.

•I’m concerned the proposed minimum lot size requirements still create barriers to ownership and affordability. 1,400 square-foot lots would allow fee-simple ownership of more affordable housing types such as rowhomes instead of requiring a condo regime. This is better for owners and provides more revenue per acre for the city to help fund services and programs.

•In order to enable an equitable distribution of development throughout the city, we should calibrate housing capacity and entitlements in high-opportunity areas so that they offset the higher land values in these areas.

•I would like to explore ways to incentivize the construction of smaller units as opposed to requiring them. Our code should be flexible and not inhibit project feasibility, creativity, and market demand.

The idea behind placing transition zones along the Transit Priority Network was to fortify Capital Metro’s planned and existing service and to achieve our mode-shift goals by enabling transit-supportive development patterns throughout the city. Per the Council Direction passed in May, “All parts of town should be expected to contribute to reaching our ASHB and Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) housing and mode shift goals as well”. While our various corridors don’t share identical characteristics, putting our transition zones on the TPN not only fortifies our transportation goals but they help distribute our growth more evenly than in previous drafts that left out major arterials in Central and West Austin. If we fail to more evenly distribute housing capacity across the city, East Austin will continue to bear the brunt of our city’s growing pains.

I support the Planning Commission’s proposed downtown density bonus. Additionally, base entitlements in Downtown Austin should reflect current conditions and, at the very least be competitive with other Imagine Austin Regional Centers. We should not do anything that would disincentivize development in our main transportation hub and economic center as defined in Imagine Austin.

I would like staff to explore a heritage tree preservation bonus in order to give builders the flexibility needed to design around large trees and protect our heritage tree canopy.

Zoning is just part of the affordability puzzle. Beyond the Land Development Code Revision, we will need to simultaneously work on additional policy measures, such as:
•Using our Affordable Housing Bond dollars earmarked for acquisition to purchase existing multi-family units in order to preserve affordability.
•Explore the use of Commercial Community Land Trusts for the benefit of independent, locally owned businesses and creative spaces, and to help retain local businesses in gentrifying neighborhoods.
•Continue our work on robust tenant protections
•Assistance to help existing homeowners stay in their properties and maximize potential opportunities on their lots.

Our rapidly growing city, affordability crisis, transportation woes and climate reality require bold action. Now is not the time to preserve the status quo. We need a code that meets the needs of the people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Policy Director

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