In Hyde Park, A Row Over Housing Density, Historic Preservation And CodeNEXT

May 23, 2017

Since the city released its first draft of a new land development code earlier this year, residents and city leaders have been working to understand how it will shape Austin neighborhoods.

In Hyde Park, residents have adopted a tool that both regulates development and aims to preserve the historic neighborhood’s character, but some say this exempts the area from having to follow the new code.

  Walking along Avenue G, Hyde Park resident Pete Gilcrease points out buildings that could not be built in parts of the neighborhood today under current land use rules. 

"This is a duplex," Gilcrease says. "It's on a smaller lot. It's under 7,000 square feet." 

Gilcrease says in this part of Hyde Park, building two residential units on a single lot requires a minimum size of 7,000 square feet under the Hyde Park NCCD, or Neighborhood Conservation Combining District, a custom zoning district that was adopted in 2002. This tool doesn’t come into play often. There are only six of these districts around Austin, but the city has put them in place to preserve older neighborhoods that were substantially built out more than 30 years ago.

To Gilcrease, the tool essentially exempts Hyde Park from the new proposed development regulations, known as CodeNEXT. Under the NCCD, large single-family homes can be built more easily, he says, where duplexes and other multifamily developments face tougher lot-size restrictions. These "missing middle" homes are prescribed under CodeNEXT.

"Only wealthier people would be able to afford a large piece of land to do that, and so even though it’s not intentionally segregationist, it has that same impact,” he says.  

Gilcrease owns his home and has lived in Hyde Park for about seven years. He’s also a chairman of the Friends of Hyde Park neighborhood association, which was formed in just the last few years. His group is seeking to have the Hyde Park NCCD removed from CodeNEXT. Gilcrease says he'd prefer to see transect zones applied to the neighborhood. The form-based code allows for a variety of uses throughout an area while taking its look into account.  

On the other side of this debate is the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, which has been around since the '70s. Reid Long, the group’s co-president, says the NCCD was crafted in accordance with the neighborhood plan to encourage responsible growth in areas that have the infrastructure to sustain added density. Long, who has been a renter in Hyde Park for about 10 years, doesn’t think that eliminating the NCCD is a blanket solution for increasing density.

“The tool itself can actually be used to encourage density, and so it’s about balancing what the infrastructure is able to withstand and what makes sense within the context of a growing and diversifying neighborhood,” Long says.

For example, Long says, the NCCD encourages commercial development along Guadalupe Street and along Duval and 45th streets. It also creates a buffer between commercial and residential, though Gilcrease says he would like to see more walkable amenities dispersed throughout the neighborhood.

Jorge Rousselin, a project manager on CodeNEXT, explains why city staff chose to keep NCCDs in the new code.

“That already has a level of scrutiny, detail and nuance that essentially has already gone through an extensive public process," he says. "And at this time, we didn’t feel that it was necessary to start to modify those NCCDs unless, obviously, council would give us direction to do otherwise."

Rousselin reiterates that CodeNEXT is still a work in progress. He welcomes the public to weigh in at upcoming district meetings or to comment online.

Austin City Council is slated to vote on adopting CodeNEXT next April.