- The Austin City Council will soon vote on a proposal to allow three housing units on every Austin lot
- That number is sure to grow next year, because City Hall plans to allow the subdivision of all lots into 2,500-square-foot parcels
- Council Member Alison Alter has demanded to know why the public isn’t being told that “Phase 1” is three units on a single-family lot, and then the closely following “Phase 2” will change lot sizes to 2,500 square feet
Over the summer, we alerted you to Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool’s proposal to eliminate most single-family neighborhood zoning in Austin and replace it with multi-family zoning.
The council adopted it on July 20, as a policy resolution without prior input from the community.
The proposal has two main parts:
- It allows three housing units on every residential lot
- It allows lots to be subdivided into smaller, 2,500-square-foot lots by reducing both the minimum lot size and development regulations accordingly
Under this proposal, a 5,000-square-foot lot could be subdivided into two lots to hold a total of six units. A 7,500-square-foot lot could be turned into three lots, with a total of nine units.
Recognizing the “unintended negative consequence” caused by investors, developers demolishing homes and building multiple units, and property-tax implications, Pool assured residents as follows:
The door is being opened for the conversation. The conversation is beginning. It has not ended.
Which prompts this question: what conversation?
We know what a real conversation looks like. When the city valued community planning, most city neighborhoods engaged in a city-run multi-year community conversation culminating in council-approved neighborhood plans.
This council’s “multi-family zoning proposal” effectively repudiates all of those plans and negates all the neighborhood plan maps (FLUMS).
Did the city staff or your council member reach out to you or your neighborhood organization, to ask your opinion before adopting Pool’s resolution? Have they reached out since? If not, what conversation is Pool talking about?
The council announced at its October 5 meeting that it will set the first hearing for the plan on Thursday, October 26 (Item 29). This hearing will be held jointly with the city’s Planning Commission. We believe that he public needs to see these ordinances at least 2 weeks or more before this joint meeting.
Here’s Why Three Units Per Lot Will Ultimately Equal Six or More
The council has divided the Pool proposal into two parts, and this year, it intends to pass just the first part, allowing three units per lot. Did you think the second part of the resolution – lot size – has been dropped from the proposal? When she called her proposal “light touch density,” Pool may have wanted residents to believe that the second part of her resolution had been dropped.
But at a recent council work session, city staff admitted that after they pass the proposed three-units amendment, “[t]he second phase will be the lot sizes and those changes that go with changing lot size.”
Council Member Alison Alter picked up on the implications of this, noting that “the change to lot size would interact dramatically with the three-unit lot item.”
Council Member Alter is correct. The density becomes not so “light touch.” After the passage of both parts of the Pool amendments, lots of at least 5,000 square feet in Austin would be eligible for re-subdivision for six units. Larger lots would yield even more, potentially three units for every 2,500 square feet. Single-family zoning becomes multi-family zoning, granting density equivalent to the current MF-5 zoning (“Multi-Family Residence – High Density”).
So, when the hearing notice goes out, will the public understand that three units per lot today will equal six (or nine or 12) units per lot next year?
Here, again, is Alter:
I’m concerned about the noticing for increasing the units on the lot and knowing that we’re planning to change the lot size or that the majority of council has given direction to do that. And but you’re not really noticing people for what’s really going to happen because it’s coming later and understand it has to come later.
The city’s meeting notice must alert the public that these code amendments are the first in a two-step process of increasing the units per lot and then decreasing the lot size.
Other impactful code changes will be considered at the joint public hearing, including allowing vehicles (RVs) to be used as fulltime residences as housing units (including short-term rentals, also known as STRs) and removal of occupancy limits for unrelated people. These will be discussed in the future.
Contact Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and your representative on the Austin City Council using the following contact information and tell them:
- You oppose their proposed code changes transforming single-family zoning into multi-family zoning across the board.
- The city’s joint meeting notice must alert the public that these code amendments are the first in a two-step process of increasing the units per lot, and then decreasing the lot size
- The community must have a copy of the proposed code amendment at least two weeks, or preferably more before the hearing