I had the privilege of watching the the second half of City Council’s first session on CodeNEXT Tuesday afternoon. By the time I showed up, one Council member had left in apparent disgust and most of them had discarded the “Team Austin” safety vests and hardhats that the mayor had provided everybody to emphasize cooperation and teamwork.
The afternoon session was likely less inane than the morning session, but was still probably a waste of time. The mayor’s idea was for everybody to signal their level of support for a broad idea, such as “focusing density on the corridors rather than in the interior of neighborhoods,” by putting up a number of fingers (fist = hell no, five = hell yeah). Just about everybody threw up four or five digits for that one, but we all know that that debate is far from settled. How near the corridors are we talking about? What kind of “density” are we talking about?
Some of the conversation at least provided some telling remarks from Council members about their thoughts on some of the key issues involving development. For instance, accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as garage apartments or granny flats. Even the four CMs who voted against allowing them in much of Central Austin three years ago seems to think they’re a good idea now.
But both Kathie Tovo and Alison Alter argued in favor of smaller ADUs. Alter argued that smaller ADUs would be more affordable, which is probably true. But what’s interesting is how it’s usually urbanists who are emphasizing the benefits of smaller housing. The neighborhood bloc is often raising concerns that smaller units aren’t “family-friendly,” and that allowing the subdivision of lots will lead to demolitions and displacement. Planning Commissioner Karen McGraw (appointed by Tovo) is on the extreme end of the spectrum, but recently she argued that a measure aimed at encouraging smaller homes (dubbed the anti-McMansion ordinance) would simply lead to families leaving the city for the ‘burbs.
As usual, there were a few pearls of wisdom amidst Pio Renteria’s rambling anecdotes. For instance:
“Mueller is a prime example of what we should be doing. We have jobs, we have housing. 25% affordable housing. Everybody thinks it’s just a wealthy neighborhood, I say no it’s not.”