One might be tempted to assume that Republicans would be more inclined to support easing land use restrictions. Having big gubmint tell you what you can or cannot do with your property is exactly the kind of thing one might expect Republicans to rail against. But on the other hand, lots of Republicans really hate apartment buildings.
Hence this quote from Frank Ward, who will be the only Republican on Council next year if he triumphs in a runoff against Paige Ellis next month:
The two diverge not just in politics but also on the central issue facing Austin next year: revamping the land development code. Ellis desires more density and multi-family housing – focusing on the large traffic corridors.
“Citywide we need to be smarter and get creative about more homes for people to live in,” said Ellis.
If that density creeps into the neighborhoods, Ward disagrees.
“I think that would destroy the character of a lot of our existing neighborhoods,” said Ward.
Ward’s position appears to align with that of most Austin Republicans, who in a poll earlier this year were far more likely than Democrats to say they were against putting in place a new code aimed at allowing a greater diversity of housing types throughout the city.
It’s not clear whether Ward’s take on development is different from Ellen Troxclair, the outgoing Republican Council member who is supporting Ward’s bid to replace her. Troxclair was a pretty reliable vote in favor of zoning changes requested by developers and most believed she would vote in favor of a code that increased development entitlements. But despite her affinity for the free market and what appears to be a very successful career as a realtor, land use policy was clearly not why Troxclair got involved in politics. She barely chimed in on CodeNEXT and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard her describe the lack of housing supply as a key contributor to Austin’s affordability crisis. When she talks about affordability, she is singularly focused on cutting property taxes and utility bills.
I’ve seen a lot of people express surprise that conservatives wouldn’t be vociferous supporters of land use reform based on their professed devotion to property rights. But the rise of Donald Trump should put to rest any assumptions about Republicans’ commitment to free market principles. Few people are committed to any economic ideology. Far more are committed to a lifestyle. For most Republicans, the lifestyle they cherish and wish to protect is decidedly non-urban.
It will be interesting to see if the Austin Neighborhoods Council or any of its member neighborhood associations get involved in this race. It wouldn’t be the first time ANC has supported a Republican. It was only four years ago that ANC, along with the Statesman editorial board, supported far right conspiracy theorist Laura Pressley, who, among other things, claimed that her opponent, Greg Casar, was ineligible to serve due to an alleged lack of religious belief. In ANC’s defense, it was perhaps merely a courtesy endorsement. Pressley was a member of the group’s executive committee, after all.