Latest Update on Austin’s Land Development Code Rewrite

In a previous blog post, we updated you on the Austin City Council’s latest attempt to reform and rewrite the Land Development Code. At an April Council meeting, City Manager Spencer Cronk sent the Council a letter asking them to answer a number of questions that would provide his office guidance on how to draft a new Land Development Code (“LDC”).

We now have an update on this issue. At the most recent May City Council meeting, the Council answered City Manager Cronk’s questions and gave him more guidance. That guidance mainly revolves around one central theme – affordable housing. The City Council wants more of it and they are willing to sacrifice some growth goals to achieve it.

Specifically, in his letter to Council, Cronk asked 5 categories of questions. In this blog entry, we will briefly cover the Council’s response to those questions and how it could affect Austin developers and property owners.

Cronk’s Questions and the Council’s Answers

1. Scope of Code Revision – To what extent should the LDC be Revised?

Cronk specified in his question that he wanted to know if his office should work on a new code and zoning map, or make amendments to the existing Code.

The Council replied that it wanted him to deliver “a new code that is simplified, can be applied consistently, and furthers the goals of the City.” The Council then went on to give him additional guidance on what it wants in the new Code, including:

  • A reduction in city-wide impervious cover and improvement in city-wide water equality;

  • Options for prohibiting uses along corridors that displace potential housing opportunities, such as self-storage or other uses that do not contribute to the City’s goals; and

  • Measures to prevent flooding, protect water quality, and promote water conservation.

2. Housing Capacity – To what extent should the LDC provide for additional housing capacity in order to achieve the 135,000 additional housing units recommended previously?

The Council replied that the new LDC should provide a greater level of housing than the previous draft of CodeNext. The Council wants to see the new code allow for at least three times the 135,000 housing units previously discussed – including 60,000 affordable units.

The Council also told Cronk that – in many areas of the City – additional entitlements beyond current zoning should only be provided to increase the supply of missing middle housing and affordable housing. Also, the “granting of new entitlements in areas currently or susceptible to gentrifications should be limited so as to reduce displacement and dis-incentivize the redevelopment of older, multi-family residential development unless substantial increases in long-term affordable housing will be otherwise achieved.”

The Council also stated that housing affordability should be the driving factor of code and mapping revisions in the new LDC.

3. Missing Middle Housing Types – To what extent should the Land Development Code encourage more “missing-middle” housing types?

The Council wants the new LDC to provide a greater range of housing types than previously envisioned. The Council thinks the new LDC should allow accessory dwelling units – both external and internal/attached – to be permitted and more easily developed in all residential zones.

4. Compatibility Standards – To what extent should the City’s “compatibility standards” be modified to provide additional opportunities for development?

The Council wants the new LDC to reduce the impact of compatibility standards on development within activity centers and corridors to a greater extent than previously contemplated.

5. Parking Requirements – To what extent should the City’s minimum parking requirements be modified?

The Council wants to reduce the impact of minimum parking requirements beyond what was previously contemplated. Indeed, minimum parking requirements should be generally eliminated in areas that are within ¼-mile walkshed of activity centers, activity corridors, and transit priority network.

Finally, the Council provided additional guidance to Cronk beyond the questions he asked previously. And, not surprisingly, this guidance also focused on affordable housing.

Among other directives, the Council told Cronk that the new LDC should support the City’s 10-year Affordable Housing Goals and align resources to achieve a shared vision of affordable housing for all Austinites. It should also provide options to update, streamline, and/or expand the Affordable Housing Bonus Programs.

There were a number of other recommendations – all focused on affordable housing – including to minimize the displacement of core transit riders, encourage ADUs, allow the development of smaller houses on smaller lots, and continue to offer density bonuses in exchange for affordable housing.

Cronk now has until October to come up with a new draft of the LDC. As you can see from the above, the goal of the Council is to increase affordable housing, which can pose a challenge to developers hoping to get approval for new developments.

If you would like more information on the code update, please contact Sean Bukowski at 512-614-0335.

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