Great case study on what can actually happen if we allow denser multi family development

According to the City of Minneapolis, 3% of their streets don’t have sidewalks. According to the City of Austin, which is more than twice the population of Minneapolis, 45% of our streets don’t have sidewalks. The percentage in our central areas is higher. The recent City Council resolutions to eliminate minimum parking requirements and allow six times the dwelling units as exist now in interior residential neighborhoods would line the streets with parked cars, forcing pedestrians into the single center lane to compete with two-way traffic. Goodbye walkability. Council has said many times over many years that a sidewalk network in these areas will not be built. The priority is larger streets. I support reasonable change, and I want to walk safely.

Dave Piper

Mr. Piper, my friend. It has been a while. You have some circular logic when it comes to side walks. I recall you saying that side walks were against the character of the neighborhood. I do believe the city has easements in place to install side walks should the neighborhood want it and the city have funding for it.

That said, in the Zilker neighborhood due to other land use restrictions, there is nary a lot that would be allowed to have six units. Land use revision recently passed doesn’t really affect this neighborhood much at all. It does allow new subdivisions and such to have denser build outs - which is great in my opinion.

What’s more I think you use the term ‘walkability’ incorrectly. That term is commonly referred to how many things there are to walk to - as in how many services you can access without a car. Increasing density, increases walkability, which reduces the need for a car. Certainly the need for two cars per family. Which then reduces your parking. And thus clears your streets for walk-n-roll activities galore!

A post was merged into an existing topic: Reflections on the death of the Zilker Vision Plan

Dave, you’ve been trotting out this “too few sidewalks” arguments for at least 7-8 years now, never mind the silliness of using it as an argument to oppose density. (If you want to keep walking down the middle of streets without worry of being hit, you should probably move to Leander or Kyle.) I doubt anyone here opposes building more of them.

The recent City Council resolutions to eliminate minimum parking requirements and allow six times the dwelling units as exist now in interior residential neighborhoods would line the streets with parked cars

As always with this argument, your claims don’t match actual reality in cities that have either upzoned or never restricted multifamily buildings in neighborhoods like Zilker in the first place. A walk around many given parts of Seattle, Portland, or even Denver will show dozens, if not hundreds, of apartments on two-lane residential streets akin to Kinney or Bluebonnet – nearly all of which have no setback from street level, given that they house shops on the lower levels, and plenty of which similarly lack sidewalks. Your obsession with viewing parking as an absolute necessity is part of the toxic thinking that has resulted in it now being quite literally impossible to buy a detached house in Zilker on an entirely average lot for under $1 million. (On top of ignoring the need to wean ourselves away from cars in general, though I realize we need a fully functional Project Connect network to achieve true progress there.)

Here’s an actual example of how upzoning in Austin would likely work (as opposed to the standard ZNA propaganda that the city somehow wants to raze the entirety of Central Austin & replace it with Soviet-style generic apartment towers) – I took this photo in Seattle a while back:

I’d note several things: first, the house on the right has minimal setbacks & separation from other homes. (To be clear, this is the rule in Seattle, not the exception to it.) Second, you can’t even tell from this angle, but there are a total of 16 new-build townhouses on the left, given that it sits on an L-shaped lot. It’s also in their Capitol Hill area, which like Zilker has become popular with younger folks as well & has had a considerable housing shortage for nearly 20 years now.

The total size of the lot with 16 townhouses is around 9,000 sq ft, and most in this group know full well that any given 9,000 sq ft Zilker infill lot would get only a single-family house and an ADU built at most: it remains literally illegal to build even unobstructive homes like these. (And btw all the surrounding streets have ample amounts of available parking.) While Seattle in particular used to have housing prices much higher than Austin, our failure to permit multifamily units hasn’t just leveled the field; it’s made Seattle substantially cheaper than Austin: instead of prices ballooning to $1,000 per sq ft, as is now standard for infill construction, its houses – meaning single-family and citywide, including its nicest neighborhoods – cost about 40% less than ours on an apples-to-apples basis (similar size, location & finish-out).

Finally, as for any argument that this type of thing “could never work in Austin”: it’s already working, in Mueller. Most houses there are attached, and even its detached homes have setbacks of 10 feet or less from their neighbors & the street. And yet it has zero parking problems aside from a handful of streets in its commercial area! Go figure!

The priority is larger streets.

No, your paranoia is “larger streets,” but please feel free to list any streets in – or even near – Zilker that are being expanded. (No, I-35 & Mopac don’t count. One thing I think we can all agree on is that I-35 is horrible, and Mopac isn’t much better.) You won’t, because you can’t: the only “larger” Zilker streets are the same width as always, but have added pedestrian-friendly features like protected bike & walking paths. (No, reconfiguring streets to reduce vehicular traffic – or eliminate parking, in favor of pedestrian-friendly ideas like walking & biking paths, or even outdoor dining areas near restaurants – doesn’t count, either.)

Just a few years ago, Dave considered no sidewalks a part of the neighborhood character.

“Big trees, streets with no sidewalks, generally, the street is the walkway,” said David Piper , a painter, novelist, and the Zilker Neighborhood Association’s first vice president.


We get it. They dont like change. Why beat a dead horse.

Im an adaptable person- so are you. We are younger and can flow but I can also respect their opinions.

On a side note as I read that sad article- I did notice they mentioned the office space on Hether.

Ps- i know the original engineer. That was not ground water displaced from the weight of that building’s footprint.

So change is tough right? It is supposed to be from what you see in nature. It could be much easier if the hood got together once or twice a year. Even Little Zilker/zilker elementary could become a great meeting spot.

JP- thanks as always for bringing your best positive foot forward. I have a lot of respect for how you present the story. We need everyone to understand we need to have input to change before they change it anyway…without our input. It’s inevitable in my opinion.


Dr. Nicholas Vaughan

My wife informed me that due to a change in AISD policies it can’t be used for such public meetings. I’m sure we can find some place though - I would like to be inclusive of the neighborhood as a whole so we do need a little ground work. Despite the outspoken voices there is really only a small small minority present here :wink:

Twin oaks library is the spot you seek

Hello JP,
Not sure how to respond, so I’ll just say in a spirit of friendliness that I disagree with every one of your sentences except:

  1. Mr. Piper, my friend. It has been a while.
  2. Certainly the need for two cars per family. Which then reduces your parking.

Also…I have never, ever said that I am opposed to sidewalks. I want them on both sides of every street and they should be a minimum of 5’ wide. It’s true that I have said the character of the Zilker Neighborhood is one without sidewalks, but that is not a good aspect of its character.

Just because I repeat something for many years makes me consistent, not necessarily wrong. So I’ll say it again— Lining the streets with parked cars which will push pedestrians into the center lane is unsafe and creates worse neighborhoods. Also I repeat: the City is not going to build a sidewalk network in the interior neighborhoods of Austin. I take Council and the Transportation Dept at their word and their budgeting priorities. Having another entity or builders or homeowners pay for sidewalks hasn’t happened, either. Almost all of the new houses in Zilker and elsewhere in the last 20 years didn’t include sidewalks. It’s evident that everybody does not want sidewalks or is willing to pay for them.

People generally build to the limits of zoning or further. The City is always inundated with zoning and variance cases which ask for more than is allowed by the current zoning, and I don’t believe people will suddenly change and forego the density that was stipulated in the recent Council resolution. I think that lots will be combined in order to achieve maximum density.

If anyone thinks 6 dwelling units or more on a lot in the interior of the Zilker Neighborhood is not practical or will never happen, please let the City Council know. Tell them how much you think is reasonable, as evidenced by what people on this string have said and by the pictures they have posted. Please don’t say, “That will never happen here.” People like me take City Council members and the Mayor at their word when they vote on land use. We assume that the subsequent construction will build to the new zoning limits and further in the interior of Zilker. If you don’t agree that will happen, please ask Council to create realistic policies tailored for different areas. That’s a win-win if you don’t think the proposed density will be built in Zilker, anyway. A lot of heat could be taken out of the debate.

Dave Piper

FYI- I was President of the ZNA and have held other positions, but I am not on the Executive Committee now. I am a member of the Zoning Committee.

Hah! I appreciate you man :slight_smile: As I like to say if I’m in a room where everyone agrees, I’m in the wrong room. The only issue I really have is when people make things up to persuade them to their agenda (not referring to you).

Ahh - thanks for clarifying! I always took it to mean you like Zilker without sidewalks.

Not sure what to say other than I don’t like cars, I’m pro walking/biking, and I support all corridors - sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. - that make those forms of transportation safer. The city has built some sidewalks - you can walk on a sidewalk to my house from Zilker Elementary now. They put a sidewalk down Hether. With some effort I do think we could get more sidewalks.

Well that’s not exactly what I said. What I said was the current land use changes, combined with the most common lot size and shape in Zilker, combined with other land use restrictions like set backs, impervious cover, etc. makes building six units on any lot in Zilker an impracticality aka illegal.

My personal view is that we need more housing and a much denser neighborhood and commercial interspersed (like the Bluebonnet market), in order to truly achieve walkability to the extent I would like. We were a one car family during much of the pandemic and it was great. With better transit and more services closer by I’d love to go back to that.

There are some good ideas to make that happen which would benefit Zilker, in my opinion. One is allowing a front unit facing the street to become an ADU and building a larger house in the back portion of the lot. Another that’s a bit more controversial is a trade off between height and reduced impervious cover. So you can build higher if you allow more of the lot to be green and open. In this way you could put more units on smaller footprints and also increase environmental friendliness.

But in the end I’m just a guy on a list serve with ideas that generally loves living in Zilker for all it has to offer, and I’ve never found any place quite like it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite urbanist pictures:

The Damrak main street in Amsterdam, before and after the city government gave pedestrians, cyclists & public transport priority over cars.