An urbanist code

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-10,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-ve
CodeNEXT offered very little compared to what the proposal from Jimmy Flannigan, Pio Renteria & Natasha Harper-Madison

For the first time in recent memory, City Council members are actually proposing an urbanist land development code. While at least seven (and then eight) Council members have signaled support for pushing our land use regs in a more urbanist direction (greater density, reduced parking), a proposal put forth by CMs Jimmy Flannigan, Pio Renteria and Natasha Harper-Madison seeks MAJOR change to urban planning in Austin.

In a post on the Council message board on Friday, the trio took a red pen to the code vision that Mayor Steve Adler submitted the previous week, transforming the document from a series of tepid reforms into a transformative code overhaul. This is the kind of stuff that urbanist activists have long talked about but that didn’t even enter the conversation during last year’s CodeNEXT debate.

Here are some of the most important points:

Eliminate minimum parking requirements. Whereas Adler suggested eliminating parking minimums in some areas, this trio said we should get rid of them citywide. Furthermore, they said the city should explore policies to discourage developers from adding excessive parking, such as parking maximums or counting parking spots against a project’s maximum Floor-to-Area Ratio (FAR).

(Potentially) Eliminate minimum lot sizes: Specifically, they said the city manager should present options for “eliminating minimum lot size and lot width.”

Triplexes on every lot: “The new code and map should allow at a minimum three units for all residential zoning categories.”

This is exactly what Minneapolis’ recently-approved comprehensive plan calls for. Currently, most of the single-family lots in Austin can be used for duplexes, while some only allow one unit. Developers have told me that the current code discourages the construction of duplexes over a large single-family home by requiring two parking spots for each unit and tens of thousands of dollars worth of fees for each unit. It’s key that the new code make it more attractive to build a triplex or duplex instead of a large, expensive SFH.

Much more missing middle housing: Whereas Adler’s directive on “missing middle housing” only specified legalizing accessory dwelling units (granny flats) throughout the city, this proposal says the new code should make a variety of “residential house-scale buildings, including single family, duplex, triplex, fourplex, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs)… to be permitted and more easily developed in all residential zones.”

3-4x housing capacity: The housing capacity is the maximum amount of housing that could be built under the zoning. The amount of housing that is built never meets the total capacity, which is why it’s critical that the capacity be much greater than the total number of units you hope to create. Adler said the housing capacity should be two or three times greater than the 135,000 new units that the Strategic Housing Blueprint says the city will need to add in the next decade. The Flannigan proposal says it should 3-4x at a minimum.

New housing should be prioritized in urban core: The proposal says 2/3 of new housing should be in the urban core, defined as the area bound by MoPac to the west, U.S. 183 to the north and east, and SH 71 to the south. Over the past 20 years the great majority of new housing in Austin has occurred outside of the core.

(Potentially) Eliminate Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts: “Unique zoning districts (e.g., NCCDs) should be reevaluated in the current context of Austin’s housing and transportation needs, and any tools that are beneficial to said needs should be codified Citywide. Unique zoning districts should be mapped using the same planning principles as the rest of the City.”

NCCDs are special zoning districts that the city has implemented aimed at preventing new development in a handful of central neighborhoods: Hyde Park, North University, parts of Travis Heights, East 11th Street and East 12th Street. In some cases, the NCCD amounted to significant downzoning, rezoning multifamily properties in Hyde Park to single-family. That means that the existing apartment complex, if ever redeveloped, would have to become a single-family home.

So, is it going to happen? Is all of this going to pass? I’ll bet there are at least two other members of Council (Casar & Garza) who would endorse almost all of this. Next you need one of the following three: Adler, Kitchen or Ellis.

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2 thoughts on “An urbanist code

  1. > Developers have told me that the current code discourages the construction of duplexes over a large single-family home by requiring two parking spots for each unit and tens of thousands of dollars worth of fees for each unit.

    Under the McMansion ordinance, duplexes must also share a adjoining wall, and that wall has further restrictions leading to bizarro structures like a new duplex in Rosedale which has a zigzagging wall between the units.

    1. “Under the McMansion ordinance, duplexes must also share a adjoining wall, and that wall has further restrictions leading to bizarro structures like a new duplex in Rosedale which has a zigzagging wall between the units.”

      Patrick, are you sure about that? I’ve seen plenty of newly built ostensible “duplexes” with no shared walls, and I just assumed developers came up with some sort of workaround for the requirement.

      Also – Jack, just FYI:

      “In some cases, the NCCD amounted to significant downzoning, rezoning multifamily properties in Hyde Park to single-family. That means that the existing apartment complex, if ever redeveloped, would have to become a single-family home.”

      Not necessarily, and I say that as someone preparing to move into an early 20th-c. Hyde Park duplex that its owner successfully convinced the city into allowing him to redevelop as a *fourplex*. It apparently had two rear “structures” of some sort — all accessible via alley — that weren’t habitable but were somehow enough to secure him the ability to construct two-story rear additions behind two adjacent duplexes (presumably built at the same time, given their similarities). The older rear units were only one story, FYI, and btw this is in “old” Hyde Park and definitely inside the NCCD. (Which is not to say I don’t support eliminating NCCDs 100%, but still.)

      All that said, the same owner has a third adjacent property as well, this one a single-family bungalow. He wanted to keep the original house intact (but obviously modernized), but petitioned to get two units built behind it as well. The NA and city turned him down flat … so he instead built a rear addition to the SF house of identical size to the planned secondary units. Yeah, that makes tons of sense. He was also required to keep the front facades of all three street-facing homes almost literally identical to how they looked originally, including the ridiculous historic window panes that break easily and wouldn’t even come close to meeting modern-day standards for heat/cold insulation alone.

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