Old school NIMBYism in North Austin

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In my three-and-a-half years of covering development cases in Austin, it’s been rare that I’ve seen the opposition to development conform to the NIMBY caricature, in which current residents openly advocate for economic or racial segregation.

But that’s exactly what the Northeast Walnut Creek Association’s representative, Vanessa Matocha, did at the Zoning and Platting Commission last month. After describing her group’s concerns about the traffic and flooding that 130 new residential units and 4.5 acres of retail might bring, Matocha said that they were opposed to any zoning change that they believed would lead to the arrival of more non-homeowners in the area.

Matocha said she believed that SF-3 would be more likely to produce rental homes than the current zoning. Other nearby rental properties had posed problems, she explained, such as “major code violations” and “front yard parking.”

“With ownership comes pride of property,” she said. “With (renting), that doesn’t always apply.”

Matocha said that while she appreciated the gesture by Denkler, “we also worry about pride of homeownership and we are a neighborhood of single-family homes and we would like to keep it that way.”

The Northeast Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association has starred in my last two stories for the Monitor. In both cases, the group is represented at the Zoning and Platting Commission by Vanessa Matocha, who describes herself as the past president.

The agent for the property owner did not object to the group’s reasoning. Instead, he sought to reassure the commission that the new homes built on the property would be relatively expensive.

While many builders were interested in building apartment complexes, Campbell said, his clients were not going that route out of respect for the neighbors’ wishes. He emphasized that they were just seeking slightly more density, and that the resulting homes would still be “nice houses” priced around $300,000.

You can’t make this stuff up. Every member of City Council has declared that we are in an affordability crisis and yet those they have appointed to make key land use decisions seem to believe that only expensive housing should be allowed in certain neighborhoods. Is that why ZAP ultimately voted to approve the rezoning?

If this had been in front of the Planning Commission or City Council, these comments would have undoubtedly elicited pushback from the dais. However, the Zoning and Platting Commission is dominated by single-family enthusiasts who found the anti-renter sentiment compelling.

“I do appreciate your concerns about ownership versus rental,” (Commissioner Ann) Denkler said later.

Notably, however, Jim Duncan, who was a major critic of CodeNEXT (he helped craft the current code), criticized Matocha’s comments when I talked to him a few days ago.

“I always hate to hear comments like that,” he said, suggesting the sentiments can reflect a desire for racial or economic segregation.

On the other hand, he said, “Neighbors need to recognize that rental units can be good neighbors.”

It’s worth noting that in all of the zoning cases where I have seen residents voice nakedly classist arguments against new neighbors, the incumbent residents tend not to be particularly wealthy themselves. They have all come from working class or solidly middle class neighborhoods outside of the urban core. I have a couple theories for why that is the case.

First, residents/neighborhood groups outside of the urban core tend to be less active and therefore less politically savvy. They are unfamiliar with progressive political speak and unaware of what at City Hall is considered an acceptable objection to development (please no more traffic!) versus an unacceptable one (please no more poor people!).

Second, affluent areas of the city simply don’t have to deal with many developments geared towards the non-affluent. The land is too damn expensive. That’s why there is virtually no income-restricted housing west of MoPac and there is very little in Central neighborhoods west of I-35. Even if the zoning was available, nobody would propose building a mobile home park in Tarrytown. Instead, you build a mobile home park in Del Valle and piss off the working class homeowners in the area.

Therefore, when people in wealthy parts of town oppose development, they can usually do so without running the risk of being called elitist, since the housing they are objecting to can often be described as “luxury” housing. Now, those luxury apartments are usually still much cheaper than the houses where the incumbent residents live, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation …

 

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