Austin Releases Reworked Land Code Ahead Of Second Of Three Votes To Finalize

Jan 31, 2020

The Austin City Council released the second draft of its land development code Friday. It's the latest step in the city's more than half-decade-long attempt to update the rules that determine what can be built in the city and where.

"The Code and Map released today reflects changes requested through Council direction from December, with a focus on equity and an equitable distribution of housing, the environment, mobility, and housing and affordability," project co-lead Annick Beaudet said in a statement.

The city's hope is to permit and encourage the building of more diverse types of housing, such as duplexes and triplexes, and to entice developers to build affordable housing in exchange for relaxed zoning.

This latest iteration of the city’s land code rewrite addresses a vote the City Council took in December. In the first of three votes to finalize a new code, council members approved roughly 90 amendments, asking city staff to scale back the ability to build more in gentrifying parts of town, to write stronger water-conservation measures and to find ways to get more commercial buildings within neighborhoods.

Staff lowered the amount of new housing allowed in transition zones – areas along busy roads where more housing could go – in neighborhoods susceptible to gentrification. But by doing so, staff removed an option that would allow developers to build more in some areas if they either build affordable housing or pay into a pot to fund it.

While staff made some of the changes council requested, they could not make others; in a report published with the new code and map, staff wrote they could not incorporate Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison’s request to allow more commercial buildings, such as child care centers and pharmacies, in residential areas. They recommended this be done through district-level planning rather than the city-wide zoning rewrite.

Council members will have the first chance to ask staff questions about this new draft during a work session Tuesday.

The Austin metro area is one of the fastest growing in the country, and the demand for housing has grown with it. In 2017, the City Council set a goal of building 135,000 new housing units by 2025, with 60,000 of those being affordable to families making less than the median income.

But the council has to tread lightly, as it tries to find ways to encourage more housing without displacing residents from currently cheaper homes.

The City Council will vote on changes to this latest version of the code sometime in mid-February; members have set aside Feb. 11, 12, 13 and 17 for discussion and a vote. The City Council is expected to take a third and final vote on the new code in late March or early April.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that council members approved 199 amendments to the proposed new code in their first vote on it. That was the total number of amendments, not the number they voted in support of.

This story has been updated.