Austin’s new land code will seek to prohibit new detached single-family homes in multifamily zones

Austin's new land development code will aim to slow the trend of demolishing existing single-family homes in the name of larger, more expensive single-family homes.

Austin's new land development code will aim to slow the trend of demolishing existing single-family homes in the name of larger, more expensive single-family homes.

As the rewrite process for Austin’s land development code ramps up, the team behind the revision is aiming to tackle one of the city’s most prevalent development problems: the teardown of existing, more affordable single-family homes in the name of larger, more expensive single-family homes.

The issue, driven by the skyrocketing demand for land, only furthers the city’s housing affordability issue while making no progress on increasing the much-needed housing supply. When Austin’s residential neighborhoods are rezoned under the new land development code—due out Oct. 4—the city will aim to discourage the practice.

If a large-lot, single-family homeowner lives in a neighborhood that is changed to allow multifamily and missing-middle housing—typically duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes and smaller attached single-family housing—the existing single-family structure will remain a compliant use, according to a proposal put forth Aug. 13 by the code rewrite team. The single-family homeowners will be allowed to add a bedroom, expand their home or add an accessory dwelling unit.

City development officer Brent Lloyd said the proposal is aimed at protecting the investments made by existing single-family homeowners.

However, if the homeowner sells their home or is thinking about tearing down the structure and starting anew themselves, a new detached single-family home could not be built. Rather, they would have to build something compliant to the zone, such as multifamily or missing-middle housing.

For those who want to live in detached single-family structures, the proposal incentivizes remodel or expansion over demolition, a tool City Council has worked to find and implement for more than two years. When demolition of a single-family home occurs in these zones, the city will require progress to be made on its housing supply goals.

City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he was “very impressed” with the proposal at the Aug. 13 Austin Housing and Planning Committee meeting, calling it “genius.”

“We’ve been really focused on allowing people to maintain the homes they own,” Flannigan said. “But when those homes do turn over [ownership], which they eventually will, the new owner can maintain that house, but they can’t tear it down and build a McMansion.”

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Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Brent Lloyd's official position with the city of Austin.
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