Compatibility standards at a glance: Any property that is zoned or used as single-family (to the right of this city graph) controls the height of nearby commercial properties. These need to be at least 200 feet apart before they can get 50 feet high, which is higher than the standard 30-40 feet for SF properties. Proposals being discussed at Council would adjust both permitted heights and distances to single-family homes that trigger the standards. (Credit: Christine Barton-Holmes, Department of Developmental Services, City of Austin)
Get ready for a long discussion, members of the Council, because you have a lot to do today. Besides a typical agenda – that is, one filled with 95 items that are either extremely important or trivial, or usually both – you have set yourself not one but two busy “Board discussions” emotion on the Territorial Planning Codewith public comment sessions on each that are sure to be keen and very divided, as you finally dig into the hard work that has seemingly stalled since the wreckage of CodeNext just two years ago.
The watchwords now are “consensus” and “low-hanging fruit” because everyone seems to agree that 1) there are a lot of things about the LDC that don’t work well, and 2) there are plenty of fixes that seem logical and largely uncontroversial. And the hope is that if the CMs can work out some of these things that they can all agree on, maybe the tougher questions will become easier to answer.
The two proposals discussed today are for properties located directly along main roads and transit corridors. And although it’s a small percentage of the city’s land area, it’s a big part of the potential for growth, and also has a disproportionate impact on the lives of citizens; these are the streets that everyone uses to get to workplaces and college campuses, to shops, restaurants and services. If we can get good land use in those places, good answers for the rest of the city might follow more easily. So far the CMs have seemed to take the task at hand seriously, although it’s relatively easy when you’re still talking about hypotheticals.
The first proposal concerns properties zoned for vertical mixed-use, a classification designed to encourage urban-style development by allowing things like greater height and fewer setbacks from property lines, in return for the developer including affordable on-site housing, public spaces and d other public facilities. It’s been quite successful – the city’s “most successful affordable housing program”, although that’s not saying a huge amount – but there are technical flaws that limit usefulness, and CM Anne Kitchen presented a proposal to modify the current program and add “VMU2”, a kind of VMU on light steroids that could be applied in more places, which everyone liked. It seemed about to pass, until CM Chito Vela wanted to add provisions to eliminate all parking requirements for VMU buildings and to eliminate all compatibility requirements that come into play when a project is adjacent to a neighborhood of single family homes. These were clearly not consensus proposals, so VMU2 was taken down for further discussion, starting again tonight as item 48.
But in the meantime, these parking and compatibility concerns have turned into another proposal, separate from VMU2 so that we can move forward, but also broader in the sense that it aims to address everything properties along major axes of the city, not just parcels that have VMU zoning, which, when the program was created, implied the adhesion of the contact teams of the neighborhood plan. An informal committee composed of the mayor Steve AdlerMayor Pro Tem Alison Alterand CM vanessa fuentes, Pool Leslieand paige ellis first presented the framework for this proposal during the working session on May 17, apologizing for not even having anything on paper at the time (there was a dry-erase board, which did not didn’t read very well on ATXN). All five got a “Draft Proposal on Compatibility and Corridor Parkingon the Council bulletin board late afternoon, and it’s an admirable start, trying to balance the needs of competing stakeholders, with at least a promise to accommodate local conditions, and a mix of pain points for both parties. You can see the full proposal posted with this column online.
But that’s just the starting point of the discussion, and the tussle over the number of feet here and the percentage of waterproof coverage there is where things usually start to go awry, and people start to shout and not listen. It’s article 49, God help us.
Neither item is released for action today, but expect VMU2 to return fairly quickly unless it gets scrubbed again. The larger discussion could be ready for action in the fall, if all goes well.
The following Connect Project working group meeting will focus on South Shore Working Group area, including proposed Blue Line rail stations at Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore. It’s via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 26. Go to projectconnect.com/get-involved to register and view the library of presentations from past meetings.
This Friday, May 20, it’s Bike-to-work day nationwide and at dozens of gas stations around Austin that offer free coffee, snacks and encouragement from 7-9am. Or head to the Austin City Hall Mega Station, 8-9:30 a.m., for tacos and giveaways from the city and various mobility partners. To see ghisallo.org/blog/bike-to-work-day-atx-2022 for the list. You can also rent a MetroBike for free using the promotional code B2WD2022.
the ULI Austin May Breakfast will include a discussion of the project Austin Convention Center Redevelopment, where plans to more or less double the available space have been in constant flux since the pandemic hit. Hear the latest from the Convention Center Director and Visit Austin Manager on Wednesday, May 25 from 7:30-9 a.m. (talk is 8-9 a.m.). It’s in person at the Austin Public Library ($20-75) or virtual on Zoom ($0-30); register on austin.uli.org.
Once upon a time there was a competition in Brush Square
For people to write the fairest limericks
About Texas or Austin
It’s not that exhausting
But it should rhyme, ideally.
If you can do better than that, you should submit your efforts to Lone Star Limerickswho will accept original Austin or Texas submissions starting May 22 at woobox.com/ieunzbfor possible publication on Brush Square Museums‘ website. I can not wait.
Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors and other useful information to nbarbaro at austinchronicle.com.