Austin Business Journal reports, "developers working in Austin may eventually have a new tool when seeking additional building height for their projects.

With police and fire response times unacceptable in some cases, City Hall has taken steps toward a new element to its density bonus programs that would offer incentives to developers if they donate land to the city that can be used for public safety facilities.

During its Nov. 30 meeting, Austin City Council approved a resolution directing the city manager’s office to conduct a comprehensive review of the proposal and return to Council next year.

"We are running out of land and property to develop," said Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who sponsored the resolution. "What I don't want to happen is for us to not have enough public safety resources for the 10th largest city in the country. I am very hopeful and optimistic about the potential of this and how it might be able to provide additional public safety for our community as we continue to grow."

Kelly, a longtime firefighter, said she was "honored" to see the item pass unanimously on the consent agenda. She said her proposal is derived from similar programs used across the country, from neighboring Leander to New York City.

She said The Domain in North Austin, for example, does not have a dedicated emergency service station. Kelly explained that emergency calls to what is considered by many to be Austin's second downtown take longer than other neighboring areas. That leads to longer response times for secondary calls outside The Domain.

Kelly said the proposed tool could have a significant impact within her own North Austin district as large portions of the region, including Robinson Ranch, slowly become developed.

"I'd like to give developers a chance to invest in public safety infrastructure because as the city develops we are going to need to ensure our public safety resources are intact," Kelly said. "Ultimately, I would like to ease the tax burden on the taxpayers of the city of Austin as much as possible."

If further action is taken by Council, the change would establish another component to the city’s existing density bonus program.

Density bonuses provided by the city, in most cases, allow developers to build taller than permitted through the site’s base zoning destination. In return, developers provide community benefits, such as affordable housing or they pay a fee toward affordable housing instead.

Density bonuses are offered through city programs such as the Affordability Unlocked program as well as the Vertical Mixed Use or VMU density bonus, which was expanded last year and is currently the subject of a lawsuit in Travis County District Court.

The option has been used on many tower projects in recent years, including the 300 Colorado office tower, the Fifth & West condo tower and the Hanover Republic Square tower on West Fifth Street.

The density bonus program is also being considered for other uses. In June, Council directed city staff to review plans for Opportunity Unlocked, a new, subsidy-free density bonus program that incentivizes increasing the number of bedrooms in developments. A formal draft of the program is being prepared to be presented to City Council for consideration."


Source: Austin Business Journal 

Written by: Mike Christen

Published: December 4, 2023

Posted by Grossman & Jones Group on


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