Austin's light rail system is planned to include a station at 3rd and Congress Avenue. AUSTIN TRANSIT PARTNERSHIP

Austin Business Journal writes, "The second phase of Austin’s HOME Initiative and other wide-reaching land use changes are set to be considered at City Hall in the coming weeks. The goal: To hack away at Austin's housing affordability problem and prepare the city for its planned light rail system.

Bigger development will be needed along the 10-mile light rail route — especially at train stops. The project, on track to cost about $4.8 billion in current years’ dollars and begin construction in 2027, will be supported through federal transit funding if the city can prove that its land-use regulations will support the new transit network.

If approved, the new policies will usher in a wave of opportunities for developers and existing homeowners.

The package is centered on four key resolutions: HOME Phase II, which aims to reduce the city’s minimum single-family lot requirements; a new transit-oriented development overlay; new city-wide compatibility standards; and new standards related to electric vehicle charging. The proposed land use changes are set to be reviewed during a joint public hearing of the Austin Planning Commission and Austin City Council on April 11.

These proposed changes come amid legal resistance against the planned light rail system and follow a recent successful lawsuit against density-focused land use changes.

“The goal for all of these amendments is to make sure that, as we build millions of dollars of transformative public transportation investment in the city of Austin, we are ready to help as many folks as possible live, work and play near that system,” said Stevie Greathouse, a division manager with the Austin Planning Department. “And that we do that in time to be able to show the federal government that we are serious about building a transit-supportive city.”

Greathouse, who is part of a team coordinating the revamps, said the changes represent an effort between the city’s planning, housing and development services department alongside the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Austin Transit Partnership, the organization leading the light rail plan.

What may change?

HOME Phase II: Building on the amendments approved in late 2023 allowing three homes to be raised on some single-family lots, this second phase of the HOME (Home Options for Middle-income Empowerment) initiative aims to reduce the minimum lot size requirement from 5,000 square feet to 2,000 square feet. The change will promote the construction of smaller single-family homes while increasing the impervious cover allowed on a property from 40% to 45% for the city's smallest lots. The change is intended to create walkable neighborhoods with a variety of housing types, create more housing options attainable for middle-income earners  and give homeowners options to house a family member or caregiver on their property or earn passive income.

City staff stress the changes will in no way require existing homeowners to subdivide their existing properties.

Equitable transit development overlay: A new ETOD overlay, a zoning tool, would encourage denser development along the city's planned light rail system. It would allow for the construction of more mixed-use development along the light rail's path.

If approved, the overlay would cover a half-mile area along the new light rail line and areas where the lines could run in the future: a route from Yellow Jacket Lane to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and another to North Lamar Transit Center from 38th Street north of downtown.

The changes do not affect single-family properties, many existing regulating plans or other existing overlays.

The change is intended to also establish new affordability requirements to help the city grow its supply of affordable housing opportunities – a goal City Hall is struggling to meet.

Citywide compatibility: A reintroduction of policies nullified last year by a lawsuit against the city, this resolution would end compatibility requirements at a distance of 75 feet from a single-family home and require a landscape buffer between single-family homes and larger buildings. The change will allow for denser, more walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods throughout the city.

Electric vehicle charging: This new land use standard would further define where EV charging facilities could be located. It would allow properties to be used exclusively for charging electric vehicles.

What comes next?

To draft these policies, Austin has called on outside consulting firms Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, HR&A Advisors Inc. and Perkins&Will.

Open houses on the proposed changes will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on April 17 at Austin Central Library, and a virtual open house will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on April 20.

Following the joint public hearing, the Planning Commission will consider the new compatibility standards and HOME Phase II during an April 23 meeting. On April 30, the commission will consider the ETOD development overlay and the EV charging standards.

All four items will then be considered for approval by Austin City Council approval during a May 16 meeting.

City staff confirmed that public notices have been sent out to roughly 40,000 households along the city’s planned light rail route in preparation for the upcoming review by the city council. The city’s public notice process was the subject of the recent successful lawsuit against the city that stopped some of these zoning changes that were previously OK'd.

“We’re about to look at some significant housing and development ideas. That means you may find in your mail some notices about these ideas and hearings on these ideas,” Mayor Kirk Watson said in a statement. “And the notices, in some instances, might make you shake your head like it’s a bad April Fool’s joke… the state-mandated language on one of the notices will probably be, well, alarming to some folks. I wish it were a joke, but the Legislature doesn’t have a sense of humor. Believe me. As we address our housing and affordability needs in Austin, I’ve committed to making sure that people have good notice of what we’re doing, including when there may be or will be changes to the Land Development Code. I feel strongly about this and, truth be told, the courts have ruled against Austin for poor notice being provided prior to my being mayor.”"



Written by: Mike Christen

Published: April 2, 2024


Posted by Grossman & Jones Group on


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