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  • Writer's pictureTalia Hill

City Council gives preliminary approval to land development code overhaul

Posted Dec 11, 2019 at 5:04 PM

Updated Dec 11, 2019 at 6:30 PM

The Austin City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to the controversial effort to overhaul the city’s rules on what can be built and where.

In a 7-4 vote, the council approved the first of three required readings of a rewrite to the city’s land development code and zoning map.

“This code is a really big deal. This day is a really big deal,” Mayor Steve Adler said.

Council Members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo voted against the code.

“There are too many basic issues that are not done yet,” Kitchen said. “There is a lot more work we need to do. I passionately believe we have to make this work for the whole community.”

Wednesday’s vote came after more than 20 hours of debate over three consecutive days on the land development code. The council has gone through the tedious process of examining more than 200 amendments to the code that will apply to the next iteration of the code, which will be taken up in the coming months.

The council is attempting to rewrite land development rules to allow for 135,000 new housing units to be built in the next decade. The council members want to increase housing capacity, but they are trying to encourage the creation of affordable housing rather than just trigger rapid redevelopment.

As the days have worn on, the council largely fell into two camps: the four members who are generally more resistant to efforts to increase housing density throughout the city, and the remaining seven members who favor an update that would allow for greater housing density especially along well-traveled streets.

More than 20 votes split along those lines with Alter, Kitchen, Pool and Tovo finding themselves on the losing side.

Several of those votes related to so-called transition zones, areas on neighborhood edges along high-traffic streets that could see substantial increases to allowable housing density and size.

More than any other part of the city, Tovo’s Central Austin district would see broad increases in the allowable size and density of housing developments along high-traffic streets. That has stoked fears among many who believe the proposed changes to the land development code and zoning map will lead to wholesale redevelopment of their neighborhoods.

“When my constituents express their concerns that their neighborhoods could be substantially redeveloped beyond recognition, I regard those as valid concerns,” Tovo said.

Tovo sought to strictly limit the depth of those transition zones to only the first five lots extending into a neighborhood from a traffic arterial. She also brought an amendment to place a proportional limit on how much of a neighborhood could be reclassified as lots allowing more extreme increases to housing density. Both failed.

And on Tuesday, amendments from Tovo and Pool calling for the council to recognize individual property owner protests to proposed changes were shot down along the same voting lines.

Ahead for the council and staff who authored the rewrite is the creation of a second draft of the code and zoning map. That will be released in January.

The council likely will take a second vote toward the end of January, which, if approved, would enable the creation of another draft.

The council then would take up final approval, likely to come near the end of March. Its passage would mark the completion of a rewrite first proposed in 2012′s comprehensive

Imagine Austin plan, which envisioned a city of dense city centers connected by robust public transportation.

“I do believe we have made progress in the last few days,” Kitchen said. “I do think, however, that we do need to continue to work. ... I passionately believe that we have to make this work.”

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