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Developers choosing CURE over density bonus

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

When the city of Austin passed a density bonus ordinance, there were high hopes that developers would include affordable housing and better urban design for the right to have greater density. But as city staff reported to the Design Commission Monday night, developers have yet to take advantage of the density bonus.

As Urban Officer Jim Robertson told the Design Commission, three projects have come through the process since the interim ordinance was passed, and no one chose to use it.

Commissioner Eleanor McKinney, in particular, was concerned about the use – or lack of use – of the ordinance. McKinney noted two areas where she saw potential for improvement: the need for a fund to be created for the ordinance and better education for developers, so they could understand the benefits of the fee waivers that come with participation. McKinney noted that it was always the Design Commission’s intention to set the design standards and the Great Streets program as a minimum threshold for downtown projects.

Robertson said the fund creation really was not an issue. While it was true city staff needed to create the fund, it would only take a few keystrokes to accomplish. Robertson’s department would administer the fund as part of the ordinance’s requirements, which would be used to pay for one of 12 identified community benefits, including parks, affordable housing and space for small retail shops.

McKinney also would like to see good tracking from one side of the equation to the other. She said she would like to see which benefits are underwritten from the proceeds of the density bonus funds.

Robertson said ROMA, which is spearheading the Downtown Plan, would bring a permanent density bonus and affordable housing proposal to Council in April. A draft report will be presented to a joint commission meeting on March 23, and a town hall meeting on the issues is scheduled for March 24.

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