June 6, 2016
As part of the process to update the Land Development Code (LDC), the City’s CodeNEXT team is releasing a series of “prescription papers” to provide a general idea about the direction the new code is taking. A total of four prescription papers will cover the following: the natural and built environment, affordability, mobility and fiscal health.
Before diving into our specific responses to the prescription paper on affordability, I would like to reiterate RECA’s stance that a draft of the revised LDC needs to be released in January 2017.
Rather than developing these prescription papers, RECA believes time would be better spent using the guidance that has already been established within the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. There is a real danger that these prescriptions may lead to confusion where they deviate from the recommendations of Imagine Austin, which was already developed and approved through a very robust citizen engagement process and a unanimous City Council vote in June 2012.
The affordability prescription generally aligns closely with RECA’s recent call for the city to produce a minimum of 15,000 new housing units every year for the next decade. Overall, RECA supports many of the recommendations in this prescription, but there are others we’d recommend taking a step further and a few more that we feel miss the mark in achieving more affordability throughout our city.
We do not believe the proposed prescriptions should be solely focused on form-based areas along designated Imagine Austin corridors or designated districts/centers. In fact, we believe missing middle housing and increased density must be incorporated throughout our city, albeit contextually integrated within established neighborhoods.
The prescription paper implies that the new code will replace existing density bonus programs that are inconsistent with a new program that will allow larger buildings in designated Imagine Austin Centers and Corridors. RECA supports combining varying density bonus programs to eliminate inconsistencies throughout the city. However, we also encourage greater density by-right at a certain agreed-upon threshold that’s greater than our existing suburban zoning permits.
The prescription paper also states that a second type of density bonus program will be available in and around Imagine Austin Activity Centers and Corridors with access to transit where smaller buildings with height and bulk appropriate to their neighborhood context are more appropriate.
RECA recommends a single, administrative density bonus program, with varying levels of density, allowable missing middle uses and height. A clear program and process should be in place, and expedited review should be considered. We agree there should be consideration to extend some additional density, height and missing middle housing, however RECA feels strongly that it should extend beyond the parcels with frontage on Corridors or within Activity Centers. We recommend a minimum of a quarter mile distance in from Corridors and/or a quarter mile radius around Centers.
The affordability prescription paper describes adjusting lot size minimums and maximums in form-based code districts to accommodate a diversity of housing options including missing middle building types. RECA supports modernizing and adjusting lot size minimums and maximums, but strongly encourages analyzing existing use-based zoning districts and their associated site development regulations, in addition to the new form-based districts. We do not believe every single-family home must be on a lot with a minimum lot size of 5,750 SF or that every multi-family project must be on a lot with a minimum size of 8,000 SF.
The prescription paper describes a revised code with reduced parking minimums in areas of the city targeted for compact development, especially when those areas have public transit and other mobility choices. The prescription says parking reductions in these areas will happen within the local context, taking into account the type of street and street network available as well as surrounding development and uses.
RECA supports this prescription and would also note that less parking on-site equates to less impervious cover, drainage and run-off issues. Further, reducing parking also allows for fewer curb cuts which leads to an improved pedestrian experience and allows for more on-street parking. There is also a need to rethink and refine the city’s shared parking and Residential Permit Parking (RPP) Program with an eye toward balancing neighborhood, business, environmental and affordability needs.