Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

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Jose Chito Vela
Posts: 42
Joined: Fri Feb 11, 2022 8:16 am

Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

Post by Jose Chito Vela »


Our VMU-zoned sites are all on major transit corridors, places where everyone agrees we need to focus development. Getting development on our corridors right is critical to the success of Project Connect, to our efforts to address our housing crises, and to reach our climate change goals and reduce traffic and CO2 emissions.

To that end, I plan to offer the following two amendments to item #33 on the 4/21 agenda regarding Vertical Mixed Use Buildings.

1) Exempt VMU from the height limits by compatibility.

As outlined on slide 14 of the staff research ( in the council agenda backup, only 41% of VMU-zoned sites can build to their base height allowed under zoning because of compatibility standards, and only 34% of VMU-zoned heights could build to the bonus height allowed under VMU2.

My amendment would not impact other compatibility standards, such as those providing for setbacks from single family homes.

2) Eliminate parking requirements for VMU zoned sites, with the exception of parking for persons with disabilities.

Eliminating parking requirements doesn’t mean parking won’t be built; many builders will still choose to provide parking for their customers and tenants to meet market demand. But as we build our transit system and create more places where it is easy for residents to use public transit and within walking distances of shops, businesses, and places of work, it does not make sense to require parking in those places.


Vanessa Fuentes
Posts: 38
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2021 9:02 am

Re: Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

Post by Vanessa Fuentes »

Thank you for bringing these amendments forward, CM Vela. It was recently reported that the median sales price of a home in Austin has surpassed $600k. Given the housing and climate crisis that we are in, I believe it is important we urgently take action at the scale needed. I am inclined to support these amendments.

Yours in community,
Council Member, District 2
Ann Kitchen
Posts: 291
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 4:04 pm

Re: Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

Post by Ann Kitchen »


I am attaching a proposed substitute for Item 33, VMU2 ordinance, for Council’s consideration – which you can access here: ... 171948.pdf

This item responds to the VMU2 resolution Council passed last year that my office, along with Council Members Tovo, Pool, and Alter sponsored, as an opportunity to enhance an existing successful affordable housing program and add more housing and affordable units along transit corridors.

The City’s need for more affordable housing is critical, especially along transit corridors. Council and the community’s discussions about the Land Development Code align with the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan guidance to provide more density along the city’s transportation and transit corridors. Most importantly, ensuring greater housing along transit corridors provides opportunities for all Austinites to live close to major transportation assets.

I have listed the key provisions in this substitute below, as well as basic information about the package of incentives under the VMU program in exchange for affordable housing.

I have revised the substitute to allow for future discussions related to compatibility along the transit corridors and align with the Acuna decision. My substitute establishes a public zoning process required for all future VMU2 developments. Ensuring a public process, as is the case currently under the VMU program, continues engaging the community in ensuring affordability along our corridors.

I also want to thank the Planning Commission, and our Housing advocates including HousingWorks, for their support for moving forward now with enhancing affordable housing opportunities under the VMU program. HousingWorks recognized “It is critical to take timely action on the changes
to the VMU program and other programs as we are missing opportunities to capture
affordable housing benefits through incentive programs with each passing day”

My colleagues and I have emphasized that VMU2 is a beginning step and not designed to address everything that needs to be done to increase access to affordable housing. The Planning Commission and HousingWorks both recommended Council take the step to approve VMU2 now and direct further action on recommendations for maximizing our affordable housing programs.

It is important that we act now on this ordinance. At the same time we continue discussions to improve affordability along transit corridors. I am prepared to have those conversations with the community, including related to relaxing compatibility for affordable housing programs along the transit corridors.

Ann Kitchen
City Council D5

• The VMU program has a track record of successfully providing onsite affordable housing along transit corridors.
• Increases opportunity for more affordable housing along transit corridors.
• Ties additional height to an enforceable, on-site affordable housing requirement.
• On-site affordable housing along corridors with transit services ensures more affordability, equity, and opportunity
• Offers an alternative to MF-6 zoning which allows more height without city ensured affordable housing.
• When affordable housing is offered with MF-6, enforcement is through private restrictive covenants – which are difficult to track and enforce over time.

• One of the City’s most successful, existing affordable housing programs
• Over 15,000 total units developed under VMU
• Over 1800 of these designated as affordable
• Office, retail, commercial and residential uses with a vertical mixed-use building
• Through a community process, city established VMU overlay districts along designated Core Transit Corridors and Future Core Transit Corridors
• Focused on creation of on-site affordable housing, high quality pedestrian-oriented spaces on the ground floor, and transit-supportive environment
• The VMU program is an opt-in program.
• Property owners may take advantage of the program incentives in exchange for providing on-site affordable units
• Incentives include a package of targeted relaxed site development standards while maintaining compatibility and capping height to the existing base zoning. The package includes no FAR limit, no building coverage, no “minimum site area”, off street parking reductions and no setbacks (no minimum front, street side or interior side yard setbacks).
• The VMU program calculates the percent of affordable housing requirement against the TOTAL square footage of the project (instead of just the bonus area)

• Utilizes a public zoning process with notification and protest rights, to align with the court ruling
• An additional 30’ above the base zoning cap in exchange for:
o Higher affordability requirement than VMU1
o Maintain the existing VMU program package incentives and requirements
• Compatibility requirements will remain a component of the VMU program
• Changes to the VMU program under consideration:
o Increase the percent of affordable units required (to 15% and 12%)
o Deepen the level of affordability required for each (to 60% and 50% MFI)
o Updates to affordability definition, certification, general provisions, unit availability, and compliance and enforcement of the program to better align with current bonus program standards and tenant protections
Ann Kitchen
Council Member District 5
Natasha Harper-Madison
Posts: 55
Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2019 12:52 pm

Re: Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

Post by Natasha Harper-Madison »


Thank you, Council Member Kitchen for bringing this proposed ordinance forward. Along with the University Neighborhood Overlay, the original VMU has been one of the most successful tools to create income-restricted, capital-A-H Affordable Housing in Austin, particularly west of I-35. It’s also created a ton of smaller, more climate-friendly units on our busiest transit corridors.

I’m excited to discuss opportunities to make the policy even more robust and I support the direction Council Member Vela is heading in with his proposed amendments. To echo his original post, these represent concrete steps towards achieving our mobility, safety, climate, and affordability goals, not to mention the larger vision of creating a more compact and connected city as outlined in our Imagine Austin comprehensive plan.

Kind Regards,
Natasha Harper-Madison
Council Member District 1
Steve Adler
Posts: 519
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:12 pm

Re: Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

Post by Steve Adler »

Thank you to CM Kitchen for your leadership on seeking greater affordability opportunities associated with VMU. Thank you to CM Vela for your amendments on compatibility and parking. I look forward to supporting an expansion of our density bonus programs and addressing compatibility to increase our affordable housing supply on corridors.

Last November, Council initiated the effort to move forward code changes focused on housing affordability and supply even as we waited for a decision in the Acuna case. Council agreed we would try to reach shared goals in a manner that reflected a consensus approach. Though there has now been a resolution of the lawsuit (with no indication of an appeal), I remain committed to earnestly trying this path.

Council has also committed to increasing the number of residential units on corridors, especially as it relates to affordability. Tuesday’s work session discussion is an opportunity for us to begin to find a consensus VMU2 solution that actually and substantially does this, in a manner that's desirable from a planning perspective.

The issues raised by the amendments from CM Kitchen and CM Vela at least include:

1. Should VMU2 be handled as a text amendment to the VMU zoning classification or as a newly created district?

2. How should compatibility or parking requirements be relaxed to more fully realize the benefits of VMU2 or other affordability bonus provisions?

3. Should VMU2 be acted upon first, or as part of possible changes to compatibility and parking?

4. Given the importance and emotionally charged issues presented, how should the community be engaged in the discussion of any possible changes (e.g., traditional planning commission review or some other process)?

5. Should we consider relaxing compatibility for other affordability bonus programs as part of this discussion (e.g., residential on commercial corridors)?

6. Should we be considering any other relaxing of compatibility and parking requirements? For example:
i. Limit the applicability of compatibility regulations to properties located on the same side of corridors?
ii. Tie the applicability of compatibility regulations to zoning classification rather than use?
iii. A more limited relaxation of compatibility for base heights on other corridor properties?

7. How do we ensure that this Council can act timely on the final resolution of these issues?

I acknowledge these are not easy questions. If we cannot resolve them this week because we decide we need more time to deliberate or additional community engagement, I suggest some delay so long as the matter can return to Council for action in the next thirty to sixty days.

My hope is that we join to take this opportunity to respond to the extreme increases we are seeing in housing prices and rents. Whatever our path, I look forward to supporting an expansion of our density bonus programs and addressing compatibility to increase our affordable housing supply on corridors.

Jose Chito Vela
Posts: 42
Joined: Fri Feb 11, 2022 8:16 am

Re: Amendments to Item #33 Vertical Mixed Use

Post by Jose Chito Vela »


Last week, the citizens of Austin were startled by the frightening news that the median home appraisal in Travis County jumped over $200,000 to $632,000.

We have been talking about rewriting our land development code for a full decade. Since the Code Next process started in 2012, housing prices have more than doubled, with home prices up 101% and rents up 104%. During that time, there have been hundreds of community meetings and countless hours of discussion on broader land use issues. One area of consensus that emerged in the often contentious Austin housing debate is that density should go along the corridors.

We are in a housing crisis. Our response must be equal to the scale of the crisis. Removing height compatibility limits along our busiest corridors is a small change that can yield outsized benefits for affordability and livability. If we cannot tackle relatively small reforms, how can we successfully address our housing emergency before it’s too late?

VMU properties are universally understood to be the best location for new housing and are the least expensive housing types to build per square foot. This is low-hanging fruit. If we cannot make relatively simple compatibility and parking changes to VMU, I struggle to see how we solve our housing crisis.

Further delay will not make the conversation on these items any easier. Further discussion will not change the overwhelming demand from our constituents for safe, stable, and affordable housing.