November 20, 2015
Last week, Austin City Council passed on first reading a new parkland dedication ordinance that increases the parkland dedication requirement by 88 percent and the fee-in-lieu of parkland dedication between 45 percent and 140 percent. Why does this matter to you and why should you get involved? First, let me provide some context.
According to a study by Texas A&M University, Austin has 26 acres of parks per 1,000 residents, which was the highest among major Texas cities and second only to San Diego when studying peer cities across the country. As our community continues to rapidly grow, our parkland, expressed as a ratio of parkland per 1,000 residents, is dropping even as we add more parkland in developments like Mueller, SouthShore, Lakeshore, The Triangle and the proposed park at The Grove. Therefore, the Parks Department wants to increase the fees the city collects to be able to purchase more parkland, especially now as the city rapidly develops, and they also want to increase the acreage required for parkland development in new projects.
Parks and open space are essential to our quality of life and I commend the Parks Department for being champions of one of the key things that makes Austin unique and a highly desirable place to live. The Parks Department should also receive credit for listening to constituents and including various feedback from the community into the proposed ordinance, including an early determination process for land owners and developers to determine if parkland dedication or fee-in-lieu will be required prior to a site plan submittal, credit for 50 percent of privately owned open space that is open to the public on a project, as well as allowing land owners and developers to improve a local park rather than pay parkland dedication fees-in-lieu to a fund.
While the proposal passed on first reading makes headway on several issues, there are three major concerns that have yet to be addressed in the ordinance: the mechanics of the parkland dedication formula, a process for appealing a decision regarding parkland dedication made by the City of Austin, and a formula for incentivizing parkland by increasing housing density on a particular site.
The mechanics of the dedication formula are completely illogical when applied in the urban core. Applied to a typical four story apartment in the core that has 175 units on two acres, you would multiply 9.4 (required dedication acreage) X 175 (# of units) X 1.7 (density factor) divided by 1,000 which results in 2.8 acres to be dedicated. The required parkland dedication is more than the site itself! Why would Austin, a progressive city, create an ordinance that could require the ridiculous result of dedicating more land to parkland than is owned?
The more land required for parks, the less land we have for development, and adding more housing supply to our community is the only long-term, effective way to reduce housing costs. As drafted, the proposed Parkland Dedication changes will directly lead to higher housing costs for everyone in this City. So why did the City draft an ordinance that makes us choose between parkland and more housing? Why are we not incentivizing more parkland by allowing more density?
Given these concerns with the current ordinance, RECA is proposing that if the dedication formula results in more than 10 percent of a total site to be dedicated, then paying a fee-in-lieu will be allowed at the election of the developer. RECA is also proposing that floor area ratio, impervious cover and net site area calculations be applied to an entire site, prior to the parkland dedication to incentivize both housing density and parkland dedication. This could make real headway on housing affordability and increase the city’s parkland inventory. Additionally, RECA is proposing a process for seeking a variance regarding the parkland dedication requirement.
Please consider asking more questions, educating yourself on this issue and its nuances, and then getting involved in this process. Come speak at the city council meeting when this issue comes up, email the city council members and educate your peers. We can build a better ordinance with your help.