First came CodeNEXT, the citywide rezoning plan that Austin officials were shamed into withdrawing in 2018. Then came the infamous “transition zone” initiative, which the city council tried to pass without notifying local residents. It met its end after a Travis County court found the council acted illegally, a ruling that was affirmed by an appellate court earlier this year.
Now it looks as though Mayor Steve Adler and his allies have acquired a new target: Austin’s longstanding compatibility standards.
Compatibility standards govern the height and setback of big buildings near residential areas, providing our community’s existing neighborhoods with modest buffers from large, multistory developments.
On June 9, the city council approved a middle-of-the-night proposal to “relax” the standards near new Vertical Mixed Use (VMU) developments, and council members plan to take broader action this September—perhaps weakening compatibility citywide.
Here are answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received since the June 9 vote:
What are compatibility standards?
Compatibility standards are zoning laws that regulate the height and setback of large buildings next to residential neighborhoods, preventing structures with wildly different sizes from being built side-by-side. The City of Austin adopted compatibility standards in 1986 to ensure that new commercial or multifamily developments wouldn’t tower over existing homes.
How do Austin’s current compatibility standards work?
Under our current compatibility standards, structures 60-120 feet tall may not be built within 300 feet of single-family homes or townhomes, and structures more than 120 feet tall may not be built within 540 feet. As the following graphic shows, the application of these standards varies slightly based upon the square footage of the developments in question.
How is the city council attempting to change compatibility standards?
The council’s June 9 proposal allows land developers along certain transportation corridors to erect buildings up to 90 feet tall just 100 feet from the property lines of existing homes (that’s 440 feet closer than our current standards allow, an 80% reduction in compatibility). The measure also strips parking requirements from those developments, pushing new residents and their guests to park on neighborhood streets. If the council takes further action this September, compatibility standards could be weakened or dissolved for property owners all over Austin.
Is the city council’s plan legal?
The council failed to notify affected property owners of the impending changes—meaning thousands of Austinites could lose the protections provided by compatibility standards without even realizing the matter is under discussion. The lack of notice leaves these new regulations vulnerable to legal challenge by an affected property owner.
What can concerned residents do?
Stay engaged between now and September, when council members are scheduled to address the compatibility issue again. Follow us on Facebook, forward our emails to friends and neighbors, and donate to our research and outreach fund. We also encourage you to contact Mayor Steve Adler and your representative on the city council using the information below. Remind them that in a democracy folks have a right to notice of hearings so that they have an opportunity to be heard. Ask them not to “relax” our community’s compatibility standards by 80%, and demand you be notified of regulation changes which affect your home. Check this map if you aren’t sure which council member represents you.
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!
You may send a single email to the mayor and all council members using this form.