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Amid rising housing costs, Austin increases (slightly) park fees charged to builders

People at Zilker Park in July.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Following a conversation that pitted the amount of parkland in Austin against housing affordability, council members on Thursday voted against doubling park fees charged to residential developers. Instead, they opted to raise these fees by 10%.

The vote was 10 to 1, with Council Member Mackenzie Kelly voting against.

“I know there are folks who ideally wanted to stick to the numbers [city staff] originally proposed,” Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents Southwest Austin, said. “But I hope we found a workable compromise knowing that it is our responsibility to make sure we have access to park space, but that we don’t disproportionately create a situation where housing doesn’t get built.”

Council members also voted to begin charging commercial developers — those that build office and retail space — park fees for the first time since the city began charging these fees in 1985.

Cities across Texas charge builders, particularly residential builders, these parkland dedication fees to help a city create parkland as its population grows. Developers can either donate land to make into a park, pay a fee the city can use to buy land for a park or do a mix of both. The money can be used to buy land or to build park amenities, but it cannot be used for park maintenance.

The city can also use bond money to buy land for a park. In 2018, Austin voters approved $149 million to be used on parks, including the purchase of new land.

Staff originally recommended the city more than double what it was charging residential builders in parkland dedication fees, bringing the fee for a single-family home from about $5,000 per house to $11,000. Builders who spoke with KUT balked at this suggestion, especially given that the city doubled the fees last year. They warned this would increase the cost of building, a cost that could get passed on to the eventual homebuyer or renter.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, who advocated for a 25% increase, said she was disappointed with the council’s eventual decision to institute a 10% raise.

“The cost of land is going up way more than 10% and that’s what we’re trying to purchase with these fees,” she said. Last year, the City of Austin bought about 35 acres of land at an average price of more than $544,000 an acre. “Every time we want to go and purchase a park it’s going to cost us more and we’re going to have less resources to do that.”

Council members said they plan to hold public meetings over the next year to consider whether they should tweak or amend the formula used to calculate these fees.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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