CodeNEXT’s third draft dials down on density, introduces demolition protection and other takeaways

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Austin released the third version of its land development code rewrite on Monday. The long-awaited CodeNEXT Draft 3 is the first update since Sept. 15 and represents city staff’s official recommendation for the city’s new land development code.

The draft now heads to the city’s land-use commissions for edits before landing on the City Council dais for further revision and potential adoption.

You can access the recommended code’s zoning maps here.  Below are four major takeaways from the latest proposal.

1. Dialed-down density in central core neighborhoods

Draft 2 zoned much of the central core neighborhoods as Residential 3, or R3, which allowed for a three-unit maximum on neighborhood lots—a density increase by current code standards. Draft 3 dials that down to a two-unit maximum, which means either a home and an accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) or a duplex.

Except in the areas where R3 is sprinkled in, there will be no opportunities for lots to host three or more units—often referred to as “missing middle housing”—in central core neighborhoods with already established neighborhood plans.

2. Protection against demolitions

As demolitions have soared amid new development and skyrocketing land prices, many people in the community urged the code’s architects to offer codified protection against the demolition of the city’s existing housing stock.

Draft 3 attempts to do that. According to Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the city’s planning department, if a property owner preserves the existing housing structure on the lot, they can build a slightly larger ADU on their lot, which does not count to against the owner’s 0.4 floor-area ratio limits.

However, if a property owner demolishes the existing housing structure, they will be more limited in the size of the accessory unit they are allowed to build

3. Dialed-up density along the city’s corridors

With the reduced density inside the city’s central neighborhoods, CodeNEXT architects have turned up the housing density potential along the city’s corridors. Corridors are now lined with mixed-use zoning, which allows residential and commercial uses. Maximum entitlements allow these structures to reach between 75 and 85 feet, or five to seven stories. However, developers can only reach those heights by executing density bonus programs.

4. More opportunities for guaranteed affordable housing

Draft 3 implements a more robust density-bonus program that hopes to guarantee affordable housing development across the city. Density bonus programs allow the city to offer a developer special height or space entitlements in exchange for on-site affordable housing or payment to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. CodeNEXT’s project manager Jorge Rousselin said developers often choose to pay a fee in lieu of on-site affordable housing, but the new program increases the fee to make building on-site affordable housing a more attractive option.

The new draft also introduces the MU-A zone. The new zone tells developers the only way to include residential as part of a mixed-use development is to dedicate a certain percentage of units as affordable.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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