The city’s land development code governs which and how structures can be built in the city, and the accompanying zoning maps dictate where specific development can occur. Significant makeovers to both pieces have been proposed in response to Austin’s rapid growth and will directly impact the physical character of Austin for years to come.
The hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Austin City Hall, is the second such weekend public hearing on the land use code rewritten this fall. The Austin Planning Commission held a similar hearing in October ahead of its own vote on the revision. The window to sign up to speak will be open between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Speakers will get 2 minutes to speak to City Council.
Saturday’s hearing marks the home stretch of the revision effort that extends back to 2012 and has directly cost taxpayers more than $8.5 million in costs associated with the rewrite. Competing visions for future development and neighborhoods in the city have drawn sharp political lines in the city for the better part of the last decade. The previous attempt to rewrite the code, known as CodeNEXT, saw three heavily protested drafts before City Council agreed to pull the plug on the effort in August 2018, attributing hyperbole and misinformation as poisoning the process.
Among the central issues related to the land development code is the city’s ability to create an environment that not only allows for more housing capacity—a recent market report showed Austin’s single-family home inventory at an all-time low—but a greater diversity of housing types as well—such as duplexes, triplexes, townhomes and detached smaller homes. The proposed code and zoning maps attempt to allow for more dwelling units per lot in many areas throughout the city.
Staff working on the code revision has said most of the new capacity will come along the city’s transit corridors—areas along busy roads such as Burnet Road, Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard—and transition zones—areas that will buffer between the highly dense transit corridors and the less dense neighborhood centers.
Another major question is the ability of the new land use rules to produce market-rate affordable housing as well as subsidized housing for a range of income levels throughout the city. Texas state law offers limited tools to cities that want to have the market produce subsidized affordable housing. The main tool in Austin is the density bonus, an incentive program that offers enhanced building entitlements to developers in exchange for building subsidized housing. City Council and code experts have been regularly debating the right calibration to make the incentives desirable enough for developers to produce the highest amount of affordable housing possible. The calibration is still being tweaked.
City Council is scheduled to take its first of three votes on the proposed land development code Dec. 9; however, they have acknowledged the discussion may extend beyond Dec. 9, and the vote could come as late as Dec. 11.