Austin land use changes to see joint review by Council, Planning Commission

Amendments to Austin’s land development code intended to boost building density throughout the city will soon be considered in a joint public hearing between the Austin City Council and Planning Commission. The changes could have a significant impact on housing supply in the city.

A meeting date has not been yet been scheduled but is expected to occur this year. Council on Sept. 21 approved a resolution calling for the joint public hearing, which was recommended by the city’s Housing and Planning Department.

The hearing shows there is political momentum behind the city’s effort to address the housing shortage and correlated affordability concerns — as well as controversy. After a previous effort to overhaul the land development code failed, density advocates have been pushing for piecemeal changes to more effectively use land rather than turning to sprawl to accommodate the growing population.

“It is a clear statement from this Council of its intention to make sure there is appropriate notice and appropriate opportunity for people to be heard on these items,” Mayor Kirk Watson said during last week’s meeting.

Some of the changes under consideration include increasing the number of dwelling units allowed on a single-family-zoned property through participation in the Affordability Unlocked program, creating new land use regulations specific to three dwelling units on a single-family zoned lot and eliminating the existing residential dwelling unit occupancy limit.

The meeting is taking shape as the city faces a lawsuit from a group of community members citing concerns that the proposed changes violate court rulings that derailed the last comprehensive code revision. A key component of the group’s argument is that the city did not provide enough public engagement or notification for the changes.

During the Sept. 21 meeting, city staffers confirmed it would cost about $320,000 to distribute more than 600,000 notices to property owners that would be impacted by the proposed changes.

Monica Guzmán — policy director at Go Austin/Vamos Austin, a plaintiff in the lawsuit — said the city would have to ensure that the physical notification is shared in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and other languags spoken by Austinites.

District 10 Council Member Allison Alter abstained from the vote, sharing disappointment that details on the resolution were not published until two days prior to the vote.

“Because there is such a limited time on something that has considerable public interest, I am going to abstain on this item,” Alter said during the meeting.

District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly was off the dais during the vote.

Staff confirmed the upcoming meeting will be one of at least two joint meetings to review proposed piecemeal changes. Other items planned to be considered during the second meeting include a shift toward allowing mobile tiny homes and recreational vehicles to be considered as permanent accessory dwelling units on single-family property as well as a general decrease in minimum lot sizes.

“Every resident in this city deserves to be notified of changes that will affect them, their property and their community,” said Council Member Leslie Pool, who represents District 7. “It is the city of Austin’s responsibility to activate and invite more public input opportunities in our response to this housing emergency.”

Pool described the upcoming meeting as “a significant event” that adds a third opportunity for the public to voice recommendations and concerns for the proposed changes, outside of the regularly scheduled Council and Planning Commission meetings.

“It is unprecedented, but the issue required unprecedented action from this dais. I think we are all united in wanting to have that conversation with the community,” she said. “I invite everyone to take advantage of the open door for this conversation that we have initiated. This stuff matters and your voices really matter.”


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