July 2, 2018
RECA’s 2018 Leadership Development Class (LDC) was tasked with researching, preparing and presenting a whitepaper on University Neighborhood Overlays (UNO) and how it could potentially be utilized as a valuable resource four our community. The members of the 2018 LDC Class working on this paper consisted of fourteen members from a diverse range of professional fields with the real estate development community. We were fortunate to be able to utilize each members’ professional expertise in compiling the paper, and I’d like to share some of the highlights of our hard work on this topic.
The creation of the UNO was a demonstration of cooperation between area residents, stakeholders, and developers all working together towards a common goal. Within only three years, UNO was conceived, debated and approved by Austin’s City Council. Fourteen years after UNO’s adoption, development within the West Campus area surpassed $1 billion in private investments, resulting in a prolific expansion of new student housing units and transforming an underutilized central Austin neighborhood into a vibrant residential and restaurant district. This overlay allowed for significant benefits to the developers and residents within the area such as walkability, increased mix of land uses, and tax revenue. But its creation also resulted in some unintended consequences such as reduced legacy affordable housing and increasing demand on an inadequate infrastructure system.
UNO’s Positive & Negative Influence on Development
The purpose of our case study was to compare the development potential of a parcel under Austin’s current code, UNO, and CodeNEXT. The site chosen for the case study was near the Highland ACC Campus area and four scenarios were applied to it. The following summarizes the scenarios by achieved density:
UNO is a great example on how effective planning and cooperation can create a solution to some of the city’s major issues. Part of its success came from identifying the need and allowing all stakeholders to actively participate in writing an ordinance that achieved the main principles from all parties. Another element of its success is the simplicity of its text. Compared to current city regulations, ordinances and the latest version of CodeNEXT, UNO was plainly written and easy to follow. Which entitlements a developer could be given, and their associated costs/tradeoffs were clearly defined and easily applied to potential sites.
Unfortunately, the area governed by UNO is unique due to the immediate population it serves. However, by understanding the similarities between this district and other identified urban centers and transportation hubs, the city could potentially implement similar standards to incentivize the necessary growth needed for compact density utilization. This unique pocket of Austin has flourished because of UNO and as a result West Campus continues to exemplify the pro density regulations that can reshape a neighborhood.