ZNA Zoning Plan for our Neighborhood

While I appreciate the effort of the ZNA Zoning Committee to try and address short comings of Code Next (it is evident a lot of work went into the document) I think the more car-oriented and restrictive solutions presented are not fully vetted and although the intent is genuine they can be counterproductive. Better solutions could be arrived at through neighbor engagement and input.
Planning done WITH real participation from neighbors of all types including; new homeowner’s, renters, and business owners is always more effective than planning done TO us.
I wish the ZNA let us know beforehand this was being done to provide input in the creation of the document rather than just allowing us to email comments after the document was provided to the Planning Commission on April 6th. There are issues that can be addressed to make Code Next better but planning done behind closed doors is not the most effective way get solutions.
If I am wrong at there was an outreach and engagement process prior to creating this, then I apologize for jumping to conclusions and will just submit my comments by email but I try and stay on top of zoning issues and have not heard anything. Lorranie or Jeff please feel free to respond below if I am off base.
Rob on Bluebonnet
Proposed Zoning Document:

Thanks for posting this - I’ve been too busy to even start. But my understanding from what I’ve read about this is it is an attempt to basically kill off most ADU’s and duplex’s in Zilker. This is primarily accomplished by limiting impervious cover to only 35% and only allowing adu’s and duplex’s on lots of 7k sqft.

While there are “smart” words that surround all of this the practical implication is devastating to increasing density in the neighborhood and thus in any hope for affordable housing.

It will be a boon to single family home owners who don’t want to add an ADU and want further restrictions on what they can do with their property - as it will ensure that this prime park side real estate will skyrocket in value. So if that’s the goal - goal met.

Im willing to go with this if they drop or increase FAR requirements.

So if I have a 7k lot, I can build a 32 foot tall 2 story box of 4900 sq ft. (7000*.35*2)

Or at the very least, allow me to build a sensible structure where I dont waste valuable impermeable space on a BS detached garage or carport so that it doesnt count against my limited FAR.

As far as I understand it FAR by definition is IC - but remember that decks, for example, count as 50% IC. So, while I agree that having a singular restriction of IC is not necessarily a bad thing, it still seems overly restrictive. Current IC is 45%. Also, how many lots in Zilker are 7k+ I’d guess not many.

FAR is typically thought of as square footage inside the HVAC envlope.

If I have a 2 story rectangular house with 1000 sq ft of IC, then it has 2000 sq ft of FAR.

In general, porches, garages, and carports do not count towards FAR. In austin, thanks to McMansion, they can when certain conditions are met.

For example, if you had a carport in your house with livable second story, hanging over it, then it counts towards FAR. So what people do is make the carport hang off the house since they have IC to spare in order to get more FAR to work with for actual living.

I found this article that goes into it.

Oh right - sorry - I was thinking of one story. Maybe if they let the structure go up to 4 stories and act as a vertical duplex :slight_smile:

Don’t forget driveways have to be considered.

Generally I think this is the wrong direction–lowering to 35% will make our core less dense thereby ensuring we keep paving the hill country so we can have our dense urban forest. More roads, more pavement, more urban island heating contributing to global warming. More traffic jams and expensive road projects to fix them. Ridiculous. Increasing IC to promote well-planned density is a greener option as it is done over a much smaller earth surface area. Extending our sprawl and the expensive infrastructure that goes with it is not enviro friendly or cost efficient. Density allows for critical mass in tax revenues to allow for mass transit, recycling programs, affordability grants, and so many other things related to quality of life (walk-ability, etc). That proposal is short-sighted and selfish at heart–it ensures their estate lot character endures at the expense of the greater good. That’s selfish imho. It will also exacerbate the affordability issue as less sq ft is available. Likely small lots will be joined to ensure large structures by those that can afford them will get built. And there will be very large lawns in those estates…

Also, just from a practical perspective, taking AWAY entitlements is a stupid way to add unnecessary costs to our city–can you imagine the lawsuits? Taking away entitlements historically never works…

This city deserves its affordability problems.


IC and the tent rules should be the only limiting factors and both are fine the way they are. When you add driveways and sidewalks you get to this number quick. Also, by limiting IC you are going to push structures to be entirely two stories.

Generally I think this is the wrong direction–lowering to 35% will make our core less dense thereby ensuring we keep paving the hill country so we can have our dense urban forest.

I completely agree, but I think you’re missing the near certainty that this is the entire point of the ZNA releasing a “smart” version of CodeNEXT residential zoning requirements that not only rolls back literally everything added to it, but also manages the impressive – not to mention jaw-droppingly ballsy (in a total-asshole kind of way) – feat of allowing for even less density than the current code does! One of the main POINTS of rewriting our existing code was to allow for increased density in urban neighborhoods! (for exactly the reason you mentioned - to keep from paving over the Hill Country and reducing both sprawl and traffic)

The change is ballsy for a number of reasons, but topping the list has to be Community Not Commodity – which has former ZNA head David King on its board, and pretty much all of its usual suspects (Other Jeff, Other Dave, a certain Mrs. A, etc.) in participating capacities – heading the charge to both put the code changes onto a public referendum and have a “backup plan” of ensuring that the code changes are largely toothless even in the unlikely event it did make it onto a ballot.

And just to be clear, it will not: while CNC managed to obtain enough signatures to call a vote, the city’s legal adviser - one of the state’s leading experts on municipal law - explicitly recommended that the city council not add it to the ballot, because it would inevitably be turned over in court for a very simple reason: Texas law doesn’t allow for a ballot referendum on anything zoning-specific. (I assume CNC would argue otherwise, but I also assume the Council wouldn’t be reckless enough to explicitly rebuke a legal recommendation from the Austin City Attorney! Also keep in mind here that both Mayor Adler and multiple councilmembers, including our own Ann Kitchen, are experienced lawyers.)

Anyway, I can provide a bit more detail later, but to address one question asked here: I realize it’s convoluted, but the maximum FAR allowance on a SF-zoned lot – which includes duplexes, despite the ZNA’s attempt to substantially change their zoning requirements (from a minimum 5700 sq ft lot to 7000 sq ft - which, of course, would only further reduce potential density) – is 40%. This is an all-inclusive number, after accounting for porches, carports and all other “covered-but-not-impervious” types of shade. Also note that it does not include driveways, but most new-build houses on existing lots already use gravel, not concrete, for them (which is excluded either way).

So: if you have a 7000 sq ft lot and intend to have a covered carport that takes up 300 sq ft, the maximum TOTAL home size would be 2500 sq ft. You’re planning to build a two-story home so there’d only be a physical 1250 sq ft of IC? TOO BAD! You get 2500 sq ft regardless of whether it’s one-, two- or three stories! Or you plan to build duplexes on the lot? TOO BAD! The maximum square footage for each side is 1250 sq ft! (assuming they’re equally sized) Again, the number of stories isn’t relevant under McMansion ordinance rules! And yes, of course this all sounds nuts! That’s why it’s so ballsy - it’s so stealth! (and even Rob apparently concluded it was “harmless” on first read - see his OP here)

Finally, note that the candidates for both Council and Mayor this fall – a list that already includes Laura Morrison, but will almost certainly have Kathie Tovo and Leslie Pool on it as well (and potential Kitchen, too) – have already voiced or otherwise signaled support for smothering CodeNEXT in its crib, even if they’re trying to dance around it. While the ZNA prohibits “political” speech on its listserv, that definition doesn’t include its own editor (Mrs. A) announcing that she has “Laura for Mayor” yard signs available for anyone who wants them. 'Cause that’s just … passively political, I guess. (OTOH if “Laura” lost leave of her senses and, say, decided to back Trump for some bizarre reason, I assume it goes without saying that any further discussion of her on the ZNA list would result in immediate banishment.)

Okay, this is long enough…

Just to clarify I by no means concluded the ZNA proposal was “harmless” it does have negative environmental and affordability implications for our neighborhood. I was just willing to give the ZNA zoning committee the benefit of the doubt on having good intentions - I could be wrong about that, but I prefer to start from a place that poor planning is the result of not understanding actions and not having input from a diverse group of people rather than any nefarious intentions.

Looking at the document more closely, I do see one fun unintended consequence. I think it will encourage builders and enterprising homeowners to join 2 lots to get over 10k sq feet, and then you can put 3+ units at 35 feet. So we would either have a bunch of short single family homes, and occasional oversized multiplexes, and obviously absolutely nothing in between.

Also, I seem to have gotten myself banned from posting to the ZNA group. Do I get a badge?

That is interesting. I still don’t get the aversion to height. I mean I get the “don’t look down on me” - but given all the considerations that seems lower on the list.

Congrats on your banning. Meet at Aviary at the next full moon for a chalice of veritas!

Congrats! Welcome to the club!

I get the height thing, but it has to be in context. We live on Rundell across from the school next door to the giant new construction.

If it weren’t for the tent rules, our sun would be completely blocked and no trees could live between the houses. Considering that our lots are 50 feet wide, their choice to go full height basically created this ridiculously tall tower next to us that just feels “weird” for lack of a better word.

I don’t think a magic number like 32 or 35, especially based on lot size in sq ft makes any sense. I think the tent rules mostly deal with keeping very tall structures away from the property lines in order to allow for sun, air, and trees. A more reasonable approach would be to have different height rules depending on lot width given existing tent rules.

Yeah I get that - there is a big difference between a structured complex and a 3-story house. I guess my thought was if you’re preserving green space then go up. Which would allow for the sun :wink: But in a huge MF development that doesn’t quite apply.

Just shows how difficult it is to write building code that is taken in good faith. It is frustrating how limiting all of this is. There is so much innovation happening in the building industry creating homes that are lower foot prints, allow for much greener builds, multi-family small house communities, etc. all forbidden by any existing and new code.

Just to clarify, the 34’ height limit is a maximum; you can’t build anything like the garage pic JP posted under the McMansion ordinance. It includes a series of convoluted setback requirements, e.g. flat-front “walls” directly facing someone else’s property are prohibited (at least right on the property line).

Finally, height limits are fairly standard in single-family zoning (throughout the country), though the limits differ by area and obviously subdivision developers can incorporate requested height limits into their initial PUD applications. (You can have “walls” and houses with 60% impervious cover requirements on small tract lots in lower-end new development, for instance, much like you can insist on a minimum 15,000 or 20,000 sq ft lot size for homes somewhere like Barton Creek. Higher-end suburban subdivisions also often have minimum house sizes, e.g. new-build Barton Creek Resort SF homes have to be at least 4,500 sq ft.) Austin had one even before the McMansion ordinance passed, but it was reduced as a result of it, as were the inclusion of setback-height requirements.

(Maximum height for new-build housing in existing Austin urban core neighborhoods, that is.)

There is so much innovation happening in the building industry creating homes that are lower foot prints, allow for much greener builds, multi-family small house communities, etc. all forbidden by any existing and new code.

Well, yes and no. These types of developments are usually prohibited by local codes, but there are definitely exceptions. We have a big one here in Austin: Mueller was explicitly designed from the onset to be lower-footprint and greener-build, e.g. it only has a 5-10 foot setback requirement from the street in order to encourage neighborliness. (I’m also pretty sure a certain development on Melridge was granted an exception, given that its setbacks and home sizes on a per-lot square foot basis differ considerably from COA rules.)

But yeah, local codes definitely restrict innovation in terms of new developments in pre-existing areas. This is a primary reason why urban architecture in the U.S. (meaning downtown/CBD, not neighborhood) is so milquetoast compared to somewhere like Shanghai, for example - the trade-off of course being that China has done virtually nothing to mitigate environmental hazards, hence the reason Beijing and Shanghai have the worst urban air pollution in the world these days. I think it’s too much to hope for Austin to embrace anything like this with CodeNEXT, but OTOH they could at least reduce their ridiculous restrictions. (Like, say, minimum SF lot square footage of 5700 sq ft, which effectively guarantees that Zilker and other urban core neighborhoods will remain expensive barring an extremely unlikely economic collapse akin to the late-'80s post-S&L-scandal days. But reduced lot sizes = denser construction = less street parking, so of course our NAs are freaking out about the prospect!)

Apparently banning me didnt stop me from posting a poll.

If I am already being punished for “misbehaving”, I may as well do something worth getting punished for.