Hundreds sign up to speak on zoning reforms

368 is the current count.

Hundreds sign up to speak on zoning reforms

Both sides are gearing up for an unprecedented joint meeting of City Council and the Planning Commission tomorrow over a series of proposed zoning changes aimed at creating more missing-middle housing. I'll definitely show up for the meeting at City Hall, which begins at 2 pm, so please stop by the media table at the front to say hi!

Here are the key proposed changes:

  • Allowing three units by-right on single-family lots.
  • Allow tiny homes on single-family lots
  • Eliminating occupancy limits, which restrict the number of people who can share a home.

368 people have registered to speak on the item. Of those, 194 are in favor and 164 are against. This is the latest indication of a shift in land use politics. It wasn't long ago that it was unfathomable for proponents of land use reform to outnumber opponents at a public meeting.

What's this about RVs?

The changes being contemplated are the result of three resolutions Council approved over the past six months. One of them, which was approved in early September, called for allowing tiny homes and RVs on any lot with single-family zoning.

However, the ordinance Council is considering in this first round of code changes will only address tiny homes –– not RVs. I got this wrong the other day.

Mayor Kirk Watson's own newsletter also got this wrong –– but a few paragraphs later got it right. It's hard to make sense of the contradiction, except perhaps that, like me, he could use a copy editor.

Anyway, Watson has decided he's not into the RV thing. He wrote the following (emphasis his):

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard from the community relates to the idea of recreational vehicles on single-family zoned lots. I agree with this concern. I actually think it's a bad idea. RVs are not permanent dwellings. Not in our city code, not in the state code, and not in federal code.

Hmm. I don't recall him saying it was a bad idea when Council approved the resolution last month. But I suppose he is listening and learning. It's a predictable pivot for a mayor whose electorate is disproportionately west of Mopac.

What's curious is that the RV/tiny home idea was championed by Leslie Pool, who has been Watson's most reliable ally on Council so far. It will be interesting to see if his opposition prompts her to rethink her position as well.

Some reform supporters, particularly builders, are frustrated that RVs are even up for discussion, viewing it as a distraction bound to stoke fears of trailer parks. But, if you really want to increase affordable housing options, RVs should definitely be on the table. An RV in the backyard is a much cheaper way to facilitate a second home than an ADU. Even if you don't have a billionaire friend to give you one for free.

And no, I don't think there's much threat of people buying million dollar lots in Tarrytown and putting RVs on them. There's a lot more money to be made on houses. But just in case people need further assurance, Council could put in place restrictions, such as only allowing RVs in the back or only one per lot.

More uncontroversial density at Crestview

Yesterday the Planning Commission unanimously recommended a zoning change to allow a big height increase on a tract of land near the Crestview rail station.

The 2.9 acre tract at N. Lamar & Justin Lane is part of the Crestview Transit Oriented Development district that was first put in place by City Council at the end of 2008. The current 60 ft height restriction, argued lobbyist Michael Whellan, was symptom of woefully outdated zoning.

Whellan's client, Benjamin Barlin, is asking the city to increase the maximum height to 160 ft. This will allow a major increase in multifamily units, including units restricted to those at 60% of the area median income. Whellan noted that 10% of the total building space must be devoted to affordable units.

One interesting part of the conversation was when Commissioner Grayson Cox wondered whether the developer might be granted the increased height but then use the entitlement to build an office tower, thereby evading the affordable housing requirement. To this Whellan responded that nobody right now has any interest in building office because the city already has 5.7 million square feet of vacant office space.

"People are converting office site plans to multifamily in this marketplace right now," he said.

Whellan noted that this area is the most "transit-rich" outside of downtown, and includes several high-ridership bus routes and the existing Red Line commuter rail line. It will also one day be served by the Orange Line light rail, but sadly probably not until well into the 2030's, if that. The Crestview Station did not make the cut for the first phase of Project Connect, but was flagged as a high-priority future extension.