Six months after City Council voted to end its five-year project to rewrite Austin’s land-use rules, the effort has been rejuvenated, and local policymakers say action, not lengthy debate, is needed in 2019.
Austin’s land-development code—the rules governing what can be built and where—has not seen a substantial update since 1984, when the population was less than half what it is today and land development and demand were at more manageable levels. The need for a new land-development code has been almost unanimously endorsed by the community, but deep divisions exist in how and what to change.
It is at those fault lines where City Council will begin this second attempt at a rewrite. City Manager Spencer Cronk, who was tapped by council to come up with a revision process, asked council members last week to submit their opinions on the hotbed issues of housing supply and density, parking requirements and compatibility standards and the scope of the rewrite in order to guide his team’s strategy.
Following a high-level overview of the policy guidance survey, several council members at the March 26 work session said they want action taken on the land-development code in 2019.
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar said the environmental impact of urban sprawl and the growing affordability crisis hitting Austin’s real estate market will only continue to worsen without council action on the land code. Casar, who has been an outspoken supporter of dramatically increasing housing density throughout the city as a means toward affordability, said council would do wrong by the community to rehash arguments over minute details rather than focusing on big solutions to big issues.
“We have to take concrete steps in 2019; we’ve heard from [the community] about these issues for so long,” Casar said. “For us to answer these questions we have to move quickly. Moving fast doesn’t mean we’re not listening.”
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza echoed Casar’s sentiment, saying she was ready to submit answers to the city manager’s survey and get things done in 2019.
“I agree it will be hard to do in a year, but I think we need to do as much as possible,” Garza said. “It’s going to be hard, but that’s our job to make those decisions and help Austinites.”
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, who last year formed a four-member council housing-preservation caucus with council members Kathie Tovo, Alison Alter and former Council Member Ora Houston in opposition to council members Jimmy Flannigan, Pio Renteria, Casar and Garza’s housing-density caucus, said she was comfortable with a the timeline laid out by her colleagues.
“I think we have a lot of common ground [on council],” Pool said. “There’s good opportunity for a nuanced approach.”
Right now, City Council is scheduling to have public comment on Cronk’s policy guidance survey at the April 11 regular meeting with a final vote on the survey questions coming April 25. Cronk said discussions about the land-development code rewrite would remain a standing item on all council agendas moving forward.