A big week for housing

The opposition is gearing up.

A big week for housing
Characteristic of the large houses that our current code incentivizes.

On Thursday, City Council will hold an unprecedented joint meeting with the Planning Commission to consider a major reform to single-family zoning in Austin.

If you're interested in attending and commenting, the hearing will be at 2 p.m. at City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 26.

There's a fair amount of confusion, even among the otherwise well-informed, about what's considered at this hearing. The proposed ordinance deals with parts of the HOME resolution that Council approved in July, but not all of them.

Here's what is being considered:

  • Allowing three units by-right on single-family lots.
  • Allow tiny homes on single-family lots
  • Reduce the minimum lot size for duplexes or triplexes from 7,000 square feet to 5,750 sq ft
  • Eliminating occupancy limits, which restrict the number of people who can share a home.

What is not being considered this week is a general reduction in the minimum lot size. That will likely be considered separately a few months from now.

Austin's current minimum for a single-family lot, 5,750 sq ft, is very large –– more than 4x greater than Houston's (1,400). The HOME resolution called for lowering it to "2,500 square feet or less," but the details are still being hammered out by staff and Council members. It's not clear, for instance, whether staff will propose different minimum lot sizes for projects with 2-3 units.

We also don't know yet if Council will ultimately make any changes to impervious cover limits for 2-3 unit developments. They certainly should consider allowing greater impervious cover for lots with multiple units, perhaps allowing greater levels based on the area's flooding risk, but nothing that Council will be dealing with on Thursday will change the existing limit of 45% on a single-family lot.

Obviously, opponents of reform are not waiting for details to emerge before commenting. Community Not Commodity asserts on its website that Council will lower the minimum lot size to 2,500 square feet and "permit three or more units on each new lot."

Three or more? Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, Fred.

(If you're interested, you can look up your address on CnC's new "neighborhood elimination map" to see if your neighborhood will survive. Spoiler alert: it won't!)

An official for South River City Citizens, the neighborhood association for Travis Heights, asserted in the group's newsletter (pg 6) that if the changes called for in the July resolution are approved, "All single family lots will be 2,500 sq. ft. or smaller, meaning lots larger than 2,500 sq. ft. (the majority of residential lots) will be considered to be more than one lot."

No. If and when Council addresses the minimum lot size (not this week), it would not be mandating smaller lots. It would simply be allowing them. If you have a 6,000 sq ft lot, you would still need to go through the city's subdivision process to split it into two 3,000 square foot lots.

Who's gonna show up?

It will be interesting to see what the mix of people is that shows up on Thursday. The anti-reform crowd has not been showing up the way it used to in the CodeNEXT days. Instead, YIMBY activists have become a much more reliable presence at City Hall. I would guess that both sides will be well-represented on Thursday.

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