Joint City Council and Planning Commission Meeting

A really good meeting with lots of great points of view. If you missed it, it’s available online:

I extracted one speaker that I thought might speak to this group in particular. He is an architect that bought a 1920’s era farm house that he is attempting to preserve while adding additional housing. He does a good job at showing how with Leslie Poole’s H.O.M.E. initiative (co-sponsored by D5’s own Ryan Alter) he would be able to both preserve the existing unit and add two additional units substantially increasing housing - something nearly impossible under the current land development code.

can you provide some detail about the farmhouse property so we have perspective? lot size, ic limits, surrounding housing, etc.

It’s all in the 4 min youtube video I posted… lot size was around 11k. Farmhouse was small around 1000sqft if I recall… but I hate to be the go between I’d suggest just taking 4min and watching the video.

so his point is that what he considers to be a reasonable expansion to add two affordable units would be to have three units on 11ksqft. i agree! i would even argue that he should be allowed to have two duplexes and that efforts to save the existing structure should be allowed/considered.

what he is NOT arguing for is to tear down his home to build the TWELVE units the new code would allow for. why? because that is an extreme departure from current code and clearly he is a nimby for offering up an example that leaves out the details of the reality of the proposal.

please explain to me how this scenario would differ under the proposed code if this property were owned by a developer.

#1 - goodbye trees. say what you want but a developer would find a way to remove them.
#2 - there would be 12 units and each would sell for $750/sqft or more.

I mean you’re taking a real world “developer” - albeit independent - scenario and just making things up. It reminds me of the weather reporter standing on the fly over as a cold front came through that didn’t quite get the temp below freezing saying “imagine if this was all ice all these cars would be sliding all over the place!”

You have to base yourself in reality. Otherwise you’re just making things up and spreading fear. Oh wait.

Can you back up any of your claims as to what the new code would do with actual code?

Like for there to be 12 units would require lot subdivision. Do you know if this lot would qualify for subdivision or are you just assuming.

And for the trees to go away would require the tree ordinance to change, can you tell me who suggested that and what the changes are, or are you assuming?

And the idea that 12 units on an 11000 square foot lot in whatever neighborhood this is in would fetch 750/sq foot, is it based on comparables to similar site plans in that area or are you assuming?

We could assume all sorts of things in if they don’t have to be based on reality I suppose, but what exactly does that add to the conversation but noise?

In the first video JP posted, there is a 10 or so minute presentation about what is actually being proposed by staff. I don’t actually think it’s perfect and it could use some tweaks. Right after the presentation, Allison Alter even asked a question the deals with one of the issues I see in it. Why don’t you watch that section, come back, and then we can have a discussion based in reality instead of assumptions.

I watch these videos and see the “Pitch” made to suit ones objective while contradicting themselves. He uses a lot of subjective buzz words. In scenario 1, 50 sqft being removed from the historic home site is too much for him to bear. And in scenario 2, adding on to the historic home would make it a “monstrosity” because he would max it’s allowable Sqft. Yet in scenario 3, the adding on to the historic house is okay and a 3300 sqft duplex is no longer a “monstrosity” but a “family friendly” and “affordable” option. If looking at the rendering of scenario 3 you will see parking for one vehicle on the 3300 sqft duplex. I don’t see how this is family friendly. Coming from a 70 year old man maybe his judgement of what is family friendly is a bit off. Is the family going to uber everywhere or take mass transit that doesn’t exist? If this retired architect is retired, why is he doing this? Will he sell them at cost?

Nothing in Austin is affordable anymore and won’t ever be again. Even small units will be expensive when you break it down to per square foot cost to buy. Small sqft = higher cost per foot. We should use Price Point as it relates to Size as a determination of affordability.

To be clear, I am for density in appropriate areas and for rezoning those areas. I am also for mass transit. We need to do them with reason and we will never make everyone happy. IMO the only way to accomplish this is to increase impervious coverage for increased parking requirements. The reason only one parking spot is shown in “scenario 3” is because it would put the project over impervious to have more parking. Water detention rules should be simplified and used in such cases.

I have said this before and will say it again and again. Height and Impervious cover are the limiting factors for developement. FAR is a joke and is just used as a manipulating tool.

i based it on the two main things ultimately being proposed.

  • 2,500sqft lot sizes
  • 3 units per lot

so an 11k sqft lot could be 4 lots each with 3 units.

is that incorrect?

the duplex across the street from me is remodeled and turned into condos. each side is $800k for around 1,100 sqft. i would expect new construction to be priced similarly. or let’s say it gets pushed down to $500sqft, is that considered affordable if a “family friendly home” as he describes it is around 1200-1500sqft?

you are correct, i think the real world examples of the reality of the proposal are a bit scary but that’s not my doing. it’s the reality bc developers will push it to the max like they currently do. maybe even request a variance for even more, like they currently do all the time and that y’all generally support.

trees of any size are cut down every day in austin under the guise of health or the needs of the developer. don’t be fooled into thinking the ordinance will even exist after a couple more legislative sessions. then what? developer good will kicks in?

but again for the record, i’m not opposed to sensible density, i just think this is an extreme step that also has no clarity about the impact it will have on our natural water infrastructure or tree canopy. one thing for sure is that tcad will see lots of dormant value and hammer all of us on property taxes if we don’t “take advantage” of our new freedoms.

I posted this as a real world example that with a less restrictive land development code it would be much easier to preserve existing structures - as many, including myself, were lamenting some of the nicer houses in Zilker that were lost. Many people blame ‘greedy developers’ for these losses, but the land development code is just as much, if not more, to blame.

It’s not “developer good will” it’s that developers want to build things that actually will sell aka people want, and in many circumstances build their portfolio. As I’ve said before the developers that are purely profit driven are the churn and burn developers - they don’t care what the land development code says they just do that and move on… why bother with variances that is just a hassle and costs money, simply squeeze everything you can out of the code that exists.

I think people are so traumatized by this over restrictive land development code that forces developers to maximize every letter of the code that they jump to conclusions that giving more freedom and more property rights will result in the same and monstrosities will ensue. It’s like watching inmates and saying, my gosh they take advantage of every freedom we give them imagine what would happen if we let them out!

It is correct, but it also does not consider other land development code restrictions - ones that actually matter like impervious cover which is critical for the environment, flooding, and maintaining green spaces. Not to mention set backs, road access, etc. So in essence it is giving freedoms where they matter and keeping restrictions where they matter.

As someone once said rights are often taken away and rarely given.

Trees aren’t cut down for any reason. The city loves making developers pay outrageous amounts to cut down a tree put in their slush fund that can be used virtually how they see fit. Then they make the developer pay to plant more trees of a certain type. Heritage trees are not allowed to be cut down. They are not allowed to be cut unless the city wants it cut down for the city’s reasons. Do as I say, not as I do. Then the city receives more tax base from the increased development. Win Win for the city, not developers. In actuality the tree rule makes properties with few trees more valuable. Driving up those costs and furthering unaffordability. I often see properties marketed by saying, “few trees” or " No trees to get in the way of construction" and developers pay a lot more for these properties. Again, not on the developer but the seller.

Should a developer not try and maximize? Does anyone not try to maximize to their benefit? This can’t be part of the argument. If developers don’t try and maximize the sqft they would have to build smaller and charge more per foot. That doesn’t lead to affordability. Remember developers maximize to make buyers feel like they are getting more for their money so the property is more sellable. Hence 3rd floor cheap attic space you see everywhere. Believe this: Developers would rather build less and charge more.

I will say again and beat it like a drum. Higher Impervious cover for the increased space needed for density and parking. Followed by simplified detention rules to cover the increased water drainage issues. Also it is important to mention: water that sits in a detention area gets absorbed into the ground rather than run down the street and into the creeks further polluting things. Now if that isn’t a win. How are these things not even being discussed? It’s unbelievable to me.

Variances are rarely ever given unless it is an unforeseen hardship. No builder who knows anything will try to get a variance unless it is warranted. Variances aren’t just hassles, they are a near impossible waste of time and money.

Think of it from a builder perspective. Would you want to be a builder now? or over the past two years? They are shitting their pants. Millions invested on just one house and crazy amounts of time and hassle from the City and every trade along the way. Separate foundation guy, electricians, framer, engineers, cabinet makers, tile guys, etc, etc. Unknown timeframes and material costs.

Anyone can be a builder. So why don’t more people become builders if they are all so rich? The world demands houses and builders are just giving what the economy is demanding. It’s very difficult to build a house and very risky with a lot on the line and the market can change quickly as we see.

Builders aren’t the problem here.

1 Like

@brentcooke generally I agree with you - I have known several people to get variances for numerous things that I wouldn’t call unforeseen hardships. I understand that is the board of adjustments primary consideration. My point overall was that the developers/builders/people who seek such things are the ones who are passionate about their project. Their motivation is rarely greed, in my observation, and much more about being able to build something that is extraordinary or just makes much more sense than the code allows. I’ve said for a while that the board of adjustments should have a ‘betterment’ criteria - it’s just simply better this way.

i believe you are correct if we are talking about honest people. i for sure participated in plenty of discussions during my tenure as secretary for the travis heights neighborhood association where a builder simply cut all the trees down on a random morning before anyone could stop them. trees that were certainly protected. by the time the city was involved the damage was done and everyone threw their hands in the air. certainly a developer is allowed to maximize their profit… within the confines of the law. and it is exactly the profit incentive risk/reward carrot that results in dishonest tree health assessment or just rogue destruction. i also agree that protecting mature trees does cause developers to see value in having no trees on a property. but again, that is a reflection of that person’s desire to make money versus their interest in the greater benefit to society/community. unfortunately, most developers only see value in dollars and leave the community part for someone else to sort out. not all, but most, because like you said, being a developer isn’t easy so you wanna make it rain when the opportunity presents itself.

is there a better way to incentivize keeping established trees alive during development? rather than fines for removal, maybe you get some other benefit for keeping them? idk, but seems worth exploring.

How about more flexibility in the placement of houses so that a tree in the “wrong” spot isn’t a big deal.

We may have to lose the precious homogeneous lines of front yards though. Front yards for trees seem worth it?

for sure, i think all those options should be on the table. an honest discussion has to be creative and open minded. i’m sure there are reasons for some of the setbacks, like fire breaks, but others seem malleable without being an issue.