Northwood and the City wide new land development code / updates

Watch Zoned Out, a 30 minute documentary on the results of CodeNext  that explores both the practical consequences of upzoning (changing single family zoning to denser multifamily zoning) and the underlying economic and political forces driving the process. It is told through the lives of current residents. If implemented, this new building code will drastically reshape Austin.

The only way citizens can influence this is by contacting their City Council Member and the Mayor to very clearly express their concerns.
Email the Mayor and City Council  https://www.austintexas.gov/email/all-council-members

websites:

Community Not Commodity / their Facebook page

City of Austin’s home page on the Land Development Code austintexas.gov/ldc

Oct. 25, 2019 code update (11 page PDF)

Fact Check ATX factcheckatx.com/

 

Background

The rules and regulations – the Land Development Code – that Austin developers must follow have not changed in decades. A couple of years ago the City spent millions to create CodeNext, which was to replace the current LDC; it was eventually rejected by the voters. However, a new – and per the citizens opposition group Community Not Commodity –  a much worse plan is in the works. Their May 15, 2019 blog post CodeNext Replacement Arrives, worse than the original gives the background and their  5/28/19 blog post includes photos of what transition zones could look like eventually.

The majority of the current City Council want more residential density along major roads such as Parmer Lane. If passed, the LDC will completely change residential zoning near these roads to allow multifamily units to be built next to existing single family homes, and additional units on single family lots that are large enough (which includes most of the Northwood lots).

10/4/19

an updated map and more information is available at the City’s website
Proposed Land Development Code (long PDF; use the table of contents)

9/1/19 status

On August 29 the Northwood Neighborhood Association Officers and Zoning committee met with Louisa Brinsmade, Zoning and Land Use Policy Advisor for District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool. Ms. Brinsmade shared the latest updates on this plan and she also stated that Council Member Pool opposes this version of the Land Development Code (LDC) but that the majority of Council members prefer this “density” approach. She is meeting with many District 7 neighborhoods to provide information and answer questions.

She shared two documents: the May 2, 2019 Direction in Response to City Manager’s March 15, 2019 Memo re: Land Development Code Revision Policy Guidance (18 page PDF) and an August 28, 2019 set of examples of transition zones (large PDF) from that day’s City Council Special Called Work Session.

Impact on Northwood

This 8 page PDF from Community Not Commodity has questions and answers on the transition zones, mostly from the May 2, 2019 Direction document. Parmer Lane is a transition zone; the MoPac frontage road by Northwood is not a transition zone. Homes that are between 2-5 lots from Parmer may be part of the Parmer Lane transition zone.

Parmer Lane meets the criteria for transition zones (see Transition Zones – what are they? below). Northwood definitely meets one criterion (“high opportunity area”) and maybe two of the four criteria to have part of Northwood designated as transitions zones.  Our streets are definitely not a “well connected grid” and we are not in the urban core.

To be determined: how far in will the transition zone reach? It could be between 2-5 lots, or could be up to 880 ft (1/6 of a mile). This has not yet been finalized.

Transition zone map (per Community Not Commodity)

Affect of transition zone in Northwood

Ms. Brinsmade brought a large map of the NW corner of MoPac to the meeting. We identified the Northwood boundaries and areas of interest for neighbors, such as the green space near St. Francis Anglican Church and at the bend on Silver Creek just north of Oak Creek (the starred areas on the map). Ms. Brinsmade added a dotted line of her possible worst case scenario for which  homes may be in the transition zone.
Robinson Ranch owners are not willing to sell so that is not being considered.

Map of most of Northwood with possible worst case transition zone marked

Map of the entire northwest MoPac corner with Northwood worst-case transition zones marked

Her thoughts on changes:

  • Although the zoning has changed, as long as a house in the transition zone is not razed to the foundation to be rebuilt (excluding due to damage from fire or weather), nothing changes for that house
  • Up to 50% of the house can be remodeled, and it can be sold as a single family home
  • 1-2 additional units can be built on the lot along with the current house
    All lots can have 2 units; if the original structure is kept,  if the impervious cover limit is not exceeded a third unit can be added. Apparently there are no restrictions on parking, which may mean a lot of street parking
  • If the house is demolished, a new single family home cannot be built on that lot; it would require at least 4 multifamily units to be constructed
  • The current 500 year flood plain, which will become the 100 year flood plain when Atlas 14  http://www.austintexas.gov/atlas14 is adopted, will definitely affect (reduce) the possible transition zones. The Council doesn’t want additional homes built in the flood plain
  • At least in the short term, no change in property taxes. However, per a discussion on this in NextDoor (linked below) in the long term the property taxes can be expected to increase: The county has now shifted a higher percentage of home appraisal to land value versus improvements (the house). They actually did this a few years ago. If nearby properties are converted to multi-family, the likelihood of the dirt underneath your home becoming much more valuable is high – higher appraisals, higher taxes.

We discussed the possibility of a developer buying several homes next to Parmer to build a multifamily unit. There’s another restriction which may prevent that: due to the speed limit on Parmer, TxDOT requires the distance between new driveways on Parmer to be about 800-1,000 ft apart. That can definitely affect possible future development.

There will be a District 7 Town Hall meeting (date TBD); we may be able to arrange a general neighborhood meeting with Council Member Pool and/or her staff.

Timeline

These dates are from the 8/28/19 City Council Special Called work session  document

Oct 4, 2019 – revised transition zone maps to be released
Sept 11 – Council Work session
Sept 17 – Council Work session
Oct 26 – Planning Commission Public Hearing
Early Nov – Planning Commission consideration
Mid Nov – Council Public Hearing
Early Dec – City Council First reading

If Council passes this in early 2020, it will most likely take a couple of years to implement; zoning staff will have a huge task ahead of them to identify the details and implement it.

Transition zones – what are they?

Transition zones are areas where (per Community Not Commodity’s July 2, 2019 blog post), the Council wants to end single-family zoning near major roadways – in transition zones – and encourage the demolition of single-family homes to be replaced with multifamily homes. PDF explanation of transition zones including questions and answers

There are 4 criteria that determine transition zones. “Entitlements and length of transition areas should be relatively more or less intense for areas that meet more or fewer of the criteria” (page 11 of the May 2 Direction… to City Manager document):

  1. Located on Transit Priority Network, or Imagine Austin Centers or Corridors
  2. Located within the Urban Core as defined by the Residential Design and Compatibility Standards Area (McMansion Ordinance)
  3. Has a well‐connected street grid
  4. Located in a high opportunity area as defined in the Enterprise Opportunity360 Index

NextDoor discussion topic

Milwood neighbor and long-time Austin activist Ed English posted information about this topic to NextDoor which generated many replies (NextDoor account required). This is worthwhile reading. Some people agree with the plan and explain their reasons why, others oppose it and discuss their reasons.

Resources / what to do

Visit and subscribe to Community not Commodity, the group that opposes this land development code.  visit and follow their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/communitynotcommodity/

Email the Mayor and City Council  https://www.austintexas.gov/email/all-council-members

Attend Planning Commission and City Council meetings

Watch NextDoor and this post for updates

Resources – effects of zoning / parking changes

Effects of minimum parking requirements

Land value tax, the least bad tax

The problems with setbacks

Why Form and Scale Matter in the Missing Middle Housing Conversation

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