Land Development Code: What, Where, and Why
WHY UPDATE THE LAND DEVELOPMENT CODE?
First, we would like to clarify the intent of the Land Development Code (LDC) revisions. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization estimates that the population of the Austin area will double by 2040, adding more than 2 million people. Over the years, as our population has boomed, available housing has become increasingly scarce and unaffordable. Many long-term Austin residents, including our lower-income and fixed-income neighbors, are having to leave the city because of the rising cost of housing. The longer we wait to address this problem, the more people will continue to be displaced. In order for our city to accommodate the increased need for housing to address the affordability crisis, we have identified this set of criteria for the appropriation of housing: the Urban Core, along the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) Transit Priority Network, Imagine Austin Centers and Corridors, High Opportunity areas identified in the Opportunity360 index, and locations not currently susceptible to gentrification as acknowledged in the University of Texas’s Uprooted study. As our population grows, we need to allow for more people to live and work in ways that minimize traffic and pollution over our most sensitive environmental features. This means putting more housing along transit corridors which has the added benefit of allowing our city to be more resilient to climate change. I encourage you to visit the excellent Story Map on the LDC website that shows important policy documents, maps, and how they intersect.
The land development code we are currently operating under was written in 1984, when the population of Austin was 400,000, and the average home cost about $100,000. While median household incomes have tripled since then, housing prices have quadrupled. The City of Austin’s 2012 Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which was developed with input from thousands of Austinites, identified the outdated LDC as a key priority that needed to be addressed. Updating the code allows us to build more connected communities, support sustainable modes of transportation, improve affordability, and raise our environmental standards for development, including improving water quality and decreasing flood risk. Austinites identified all of these issues as high priorities during the development of the Imagine Austin plan. Now, after seven years of community input and hard work, the City is on the cusp of potentially adopting LDC revisions that will tackle these issues head-on.
WHAT’S REALLY PROPOSED FOR SOUTHWEST AUSTIN?
With that background, we’d like to address a few common misconceptions about the LDC revisions. We have heard some concerns that the proposed zoning changes will require single-family homeowners to build multi-family units on their lots. That is not the case. It is an option that homeowners without deed restrictions that prohibit additional units may use if they so choose, such as building a small secondary home on their lot for an aging parent or to rent out for additional income, but the proposed zoning changes will certainly not require anyone to do so. The vast majority of District 8 residential lots are proposed to be zoned R2A. R2A is in many ways the equivalent of the current LDC’s SF-3 zoning category, which generally allows one to two units per lot. (Please note: Private deed restrictions supersede zoning and may prohibit secondary units.)
We have also heard concerns that the new LDC may allow “high rises” to be built in single-family neighborhoods. Again, that is not the case. In R2A-zoned lots, structures are not allowed to be more than 35 feet including the roof, which is essentially the height of a typical two-story home. In the R3 and R4 zones, which also may be mapped in select District 8 locations, the maximum height is still 35 feet (two stories plus attic). The only limited exception to this cap is in R4, via participation in a City of Austin affordable housing bonus program which commits a landlord to offer below-market rent pricing.; in that case, an additional 10 feet of height would be available, allowing a third floor. To summarize, the R2A, R3, and R4 zones only allow “house-scale” developments – not skyscrapers. You can see some illustrations of what these homes may look like on the LDC website.
We encourage all our constituents to learn the facts about the proposed LDC and to share them with your neighbors. Our office wants to help address concerns and misconceptions like those above, as does City staff. The City’s LDC website is a great, ever-expanding clearinghouse for getting your questions answered quickly. Have you heard something on NextDoor and aren’t sure if it’s right? We highly recommend checking out the FAQ and blog posts, as well as the Resources page and, of course, the Code Draft and Map page. The LDC team is regularly adding information to the LDC website (about once a week), so we encourage you to check it for updates. The LDC revision team also has a newsletter subscription if you would like to receive email updates.
Here are a few resources that you may find particularly helpful:
- City Staff Blog Post: What impact could the Land Development Code Revision have on property taxes? 12/04/2019
- City Staff Blog Post: Private Restrictive Covenants, City Zoning Laws, and City Permit Applications, 11/14/2019
- Council Member Ellis Blog Post: Land Development Code Revision Update, 11/12/2019
- City Staff Blog Post: Balancing Flood Risk Reduction, Improved Water Quality & Impervious Cover, 10/17/2019
- City of Austin: Recordings of City Council Boards & Commissions discussions related to LDC, updated regularly
WHERE ARE WE IN THE PROCESS, AND WHAT COMES NEXT?
Now a few words about process. The most important thing to know is that the LDC is far from finalized, and there is still time for public input. Back on May 2, 2019, City Council issued high-level policy direction to the City Manager to guide City staff as they drafted proposed revisions to the LDC. The resultant first draft of the LDC revision suggestions was released October 4. For the following two months, Council offices, the Planning Commission, and City staff gathered public feedback on the first draft, culminating in Council’s first of three readings of the new LDC on December 9, 10, and 11. With the first reading vote, City Council also approved a broad swath of policy-level amendments to respond to general constituent concerns, problems revealed in professional testing of the code, and other citywide issues identified. Please note Council did not consider neighborhood- or parcel-specific amendments at first reading, since policy-level amendments could have a broader effect and should be incorporated first, so neighborhood-level requests will not be reflected in the second draft of the map; Council will take up more localized amendments for third reading (see details below).
Staff is now incorporating the Council-approved amendments into the new LDC and will bring back a second draft of the code text and map in late-January. All materials will be available on the LDC website for public review, and our office will welcome your feedback on the second draft. Council’s second reading vote is slated for mid-February and will follow a similar amendment process as the first reading, again with an emphasis on citywide policy-level refinements to the code text and map. City staff will then prepare a third draft of the LDC revisions and publish it online in late February. Again, the District 8 office will be available to meet and discuss the third draft. Finally, Council will develop one more set of amendments – potentially including both policy-level refinements as well as neighborhood- and parcel-level changes – for third reading. The third reading vote is currently planned to occur around the end of March.
Please know your input on the LDC revisions is extremely important to us. We are reading and logging all constituent correspondence related to the LDC, and we are available to answer policy-related questions. If you have more technical concerns, please check the LDC website to see if City staff may have already answered your question; if not, we will happily work with you and City staff to address the issue.
--District 8 Staff
Edited on 1/14/2020 to reflect change in anticipated map and hearing dates.