If you think your home is safe from Mayor Adler and his allies, think again. Local residents may have beaten City Hall’s controversial CodeNEXT rezoning plan in court, but the mayor and his cohorts are already starting to push for radical new changes to our local zoning code—changes that could reshape Austin’s neighborhoods forever.
It all started last summer, when Adler told the Austin Business Journal he wanted his colleagues on the city council to make “gradual changes” to our community’s land development code and to “move forward with the items they can agree on.” He promised a consensus approach.
Council Member Ann Kitchen took the mayor at his word, and in November she announced a commonsense proposal to amend our community’s Vertical Mixed Use (VMU) ordinance. Austin’s VMU zoning governs buildings that contain both residential and commercial uses, and Kitchen wanted to make sure it provided for more affordable housing and preserved neighborhood compatibility standards. Compatibility standards provide modest height and other limitations on VMU developments adjacent to existing neighborhoods, ensuring they don’t tower over nearby homes. By limiting size they also limit the amount of traffic and on-street parking that would otherwise be generated.
Now it looks like Adler is breaking his promise and abandoning his commitment to consensus. In mid-April, he and Council Member Chito Vela announced a plan to hijack Kitchen’s VMU proposal and use it to achieve a radical goal: the elimination or dilution of compatibility standards across the city.
If the mayor and his allies succeed, our new zoning code will allow buildings of unlimited size next to single-family homes—something land speculators and developers have been after for decades.
We expect the Austin City Council to vote on this matter soon. Click here to contact its members and tell them you oppose the changes proposed for our compatibility standards!
Compatibility standards are a common performance zoning tool, and are especially valuable for cities that fail to base land-use decisions on consistent and sound planning principles (like Austin). Our current compatibility standards provide modest height and other limitations to ensure that new commercial and VMU developments do not dwarf nearby existing single-family homes.
Under current rules, buildings six stories or higher must be at least 300 feet (a football field) from any single-family home, and structures 12 stories or higher must be at least 540 feet away, or one-tenth of a mile. The code also requires setbacks (the minimum distance between buildings and their property lines).
Developers and their allies claim compatibility is a major constraint on new affordable housing, but the VMU housing they are complaining about is targeting for 90 feet of height, which tends to be expensive due to the structural costs inherent to high-rises. Developers also ignore the fact that nearly 750 acres of local land is currently zoned for VMU use and is already unconstrained by compatibility standards. (That’s twice the size of downtown and larger than the entire Mueller development.)
Removing the requirement that land uses be compatible eviscerates the zoning code. Contact the Austin City Council today and tell them to keep fighting for community consensus—and to stop Mayor Adler and his cohorts from killing compatibility!
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!