When we talk about how city politics is shifting in Austin, one of the central questions is whether neighborhood associations and the hostility they bring to multi-family housing and density will continue.
Urbanists predict that that mentality will only survive as long as baby boomers. Others counter that the anti-change mentality is simply human nature. Millennials may be indifferent to preserving the sanctity of the single-family neighborhood now but there will come a day when they too will be outraged by the prospect of a mixed-use development intruding on the quiet, traffic-free existence for which they paid dearly.
I think there’s truth in both predictions. There will never be a day when people don’t feel strongly about how their neighborhoods look and feel. If you move next-door to a bungalow, chances are you’ll be annoyed if it becomes a bar. All of us have NIMBY impulses, and frankly, that’s OK.
But what I don’t think will persist is the anti-density ideology that guides the older generation of neighborhood activists. This zoning case profiled by Jessi Devenyns is a great example of an anti-density dogma that surely does not resonate with the average Austinite.
At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Board of Adjustment reevaluated whether the lot at 2713 Hemphill Park, which is 237 square feet smaller than the required 8,000 square feet for Multifamily Residence-High Density (MF-5) zoning, should be granted a variance for development.
Mary Ingle, past president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council who was speaking on behalf of the North University neighborhood, said that “there are other lots on the street with identical square footage” and therefore it is not valid to claim unusually small lot size as a hardship. However, Gregg Andrulis, who was representing the applicant on the project, noted that the nine adjacent MF-5 lots of substandard size already have apartment buildings.
After all was said and done, the board members agreed that having more housing for students close to campus trumped the lack of a couple hundred square feet. The board approved the variance with Leighton-Burwell dissenting. Board Member Melissa Hawthorne was absent.
I think the attitude displayed by the Board of Adjustments sums up the mainstream mentality. People will always be protective of the character of their neighborhoods, but I think the type of character they’re trying to facilitate will change.
Indeed, there is such a thing as urbanist NIMBYism. Those who cheer the arrival of a dense, mixed-use development would not be happy about a giant parking garage coming to their area.