Neighborhood character trumps affordability

If you want a glimpse of how our land development code is preventing the construction of housing, take a look at this case before the Planning Commission.

Anmol Mehra, the owner of a lot at 2107 Alamo Street, about a block south of Manor and Dean Keeton, wants the property rezoned from single-family to multi-family. Currently what sits on the lot is an old duplex.

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The applicant wants to tear it down and build five townhomes, one of which could be provided to the Blackland Community Development Corporation to reserve in perpetuity for a household at 60% of the median family income ($36,120 for one person/$51,600 for family of four).  Here’s the developer’s rendering:

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The Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan Contact Team voted 9-0 (with one abstention) to endorse the rezoning.  The BCDC also submitted a letter of support, lauding the opportunity for a permanently affordable unit in a rapidly gentrifying area.

But city staff is not supporting the request. In denying a recommendation, staff pointed to the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan, which was approved back in 2002. Although the rezoning would advance one of the plan’s goals –– affordable housing –– it would damage something even more important.

However, the applicant’s request would substantially increase the density of the lot and would not match the character of the block. While attached single-family homes may be compatible with the surroundings, the requested Mutlifamily land use would allow for more even higher density.

The case was on the agenda for the last Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 8, but it has been postponed until Feb. 26.

With the support of the neighborhood plan contact team, my guess is that the commission and City Council will approve this rezoning over staff’s objection. But the fact that staff is taking such a strong stance to protect “neighborhood character” over affordability underscores the incredible challenges that our current rules impose on housing. And it also discredits the frequent allegation from neighborhood activists that city staff bends over backwards to serve developers.

It’s also worth considering the thousands of dollars the applicant is spending to get this rezoning approved. Those are costs that may ultimately be passed on to future residents of these homes.

Anti-development forces will argue that the existing duplex is likely affordable (relatively speaking), and therefore by upzoning the property, the city may incentivize the destruction of existing low-cost housing. But as we see throughout the city, many of these older single-family homes or duplexes will be redeveloped no matter what. The question is, will we seize the opportunity to create some affordable housing and transit-oriented density, or will we sit back as it’s redeveloped into a $1 million single-family home and then complain about gentrification?

2 thoughts on “Neighborhood character trumps affordability

  1. This project was approved by the Blackland Neighborhood Association and the Upper Boggy Creek Association. There are a hand full of home owners in the neighborhood who do not want any low income persons, affordable housing, renters or any development they view as causing their property value to decrease. The vote against this project is a slap in the face of the Neighborhood and affordable housing. The Blackland Neighborhood is a beacon for affordable housing. The residents love, respect and like “Blackland”, and their property just as the homeowners of Blackland.

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