To stimulate housing supply, Council authorizes residential use in commercial areas

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Thursday 2 December 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Of all the policies issued by the municipal council decreed Most important, Austin Housing Affordability and Supply Week is to allow residential use in commercial areas, a move that could open up capacity to tens of thousands of new homes.

“Allowing residential within commercial, I think, can have a very big impact,” said Board member Ann Kitchen, one of the many supporting members.

The rule change, while certainly not a silver bullet for Austin’s affordability problems, could increase the housing supply by up to 46,324 residential units, according to a 2018 report by the planning commission.

The change is uncontroversial, even those who often balk at changes to the land use planning code on board. “I think there is a broad consensus on this topic,” said Council member Alison Alter.

The consensus also extends to disparate community actors. The HousingWorks Austin advocacy group wrote in its favor, as did Fred Lewis, Barbara McArthur and Michael Curry, three prominent advocates for the preservation of the neighborhood.

Because of a while waiting for the court decision on whether citizens’ petitions count in general dezoning, only innocuous policies were discussed at Tuesday’s session special accommodation meeting.

Austin Neighborhoods Council, a group that seeks to preserve one-family neighborhoods, is not supporting change – or any change for that matter – until the trial runs its course.

The Council seems ready to initiate the code change on December 9, via a resolution sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler. If approved early next year, the change would allow residential use in all zoning districts CS, CS-1, GR, LR, GO and LO – but only if developers reserve 10 percent of the units. for those who make 60 percent of the median family income.

If developers opt for the residential option, site development regulations such as mixed-use vertical zoning would apply. These include design standards, reduced parking requirements, and retail on the ground floor.

The planning commission’s total unit estimate has a big caveat; it does not consider an affordability requirement. If the resolution’s affordability requirement turns out to be too onerous, it could backfire, discouraging developers from building homes.

Council also discussed compatibility standards, which limit the height of buildings near single-family homes. At this time, Adler supports maintaining the compatibility as is. “I think this is the appropriate next step today,” he said.

But compatibility could still be the subject of debate. Adler expressed concern that compatibility is hampering the supply of housing – a common cry among housing advocates.

“Additional height, for example, in some cases may not be achieved due to compatibility standards,” he said. “I’m not sure if there is a limited way to approach compatibility in some of these situations.” Adler acknowledged that changing the compatibility rules is a non-starter for some members.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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