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Planning Commission OKs affordability standards in University neighborhood

Monday, July 2, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

After several years of work, the Planning Commission has finally wrapped up some of the amendments to the special land-use rules governing development around the University of Texas known as the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO).


Last week, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended the amendments to the affordability standards in the district, voting 7-0, with commissioners Alfonso Hernandez and Jean Stevens absent. But they postponed a second item that would amend the Land Development Code in regards to land use within UNO, amendments to UNO that have been in the works for the past few years.


Amendments to the Land Development Code would correct changes made in 2008 that altered height limits on the future land use map, but not in the code, and reinstate the commercial “F” in the district to allow redevelopment and additions to existing properties to develop a vibrant commercial corridor.


The commercial “F” consists of Rio Grande Street, West 24th Street, and Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard.


Mary Ingles, member of the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan contact team, pointed out that it remained unclear whether specific language requested by her organization would be respected. In February, CANPAC wrote a letter explaining that they did not support these allowances for commercial development outside of Inner West Campus and Guadalupe sub-districts, and asked that this be reflected in the changes.


When asked by Chair Dave Sullivan why there was no red-lined version of that section, city Senior Planner Robert Heil, apologized. Heil said that it was staff’s intent to honor CANPAC’s request. He said that despite not having the ordinance ready, they brought it forward to delay the amendment any longer, much to the annoyance of Commissioner Saundra Kirk.


“I feel that this item has been kind of toyed with and delayed and so I would absolutely want to see a red-line for this before we send it forward,” said Kirk. “If it doesn’t come forward for the next time, I think we would be justified in being very reproachful.”


“I don’t trust that we would know what we were sending forward, if we don’t have that. Just to tell you straight up, I wouldn’t want to do that,” said Kirk.


Amendments to affordability standards within the overlay were recommended more easily in the unanimous vote.


The new standards will make four major changes to affordability within the overlay. First, the affordable housing fee-in-lieu, which developers can pay to the city instead of providing on-site affordable housing, will be doubled from 50 cents per square foot to $1 per square foot. Secondly, individually rented bedrooms will be considered when calculating affordable housing percentages, alongside the previously acknowledged “dwelling units.” This move is intended to better reflect the character of the primarily student housing in the area. Additionally, the percentage of median family income, which is used to calculate what constitutes affordable housing, will be lowered. Finally, the on-site affordability period will be extended to 40 years from 15 years.


No one spoke against the proposed amendments.


Kirk expressed thanks to all the stakeholders who worked on the revisions for the past two or so years, ultimately coming up with an outcome she saw as “straightforward and simple.”


“I can’t say it was a pleasure, but it is certainly rewarding,” said Kirk.


Commissioner Mandy Dealey said, “It has been a very long time coming, and there were times that I thought that we might not get here, but we did. It really was a big community effort. I really hope that it will be a model for affordable housing, moving forward, in other parts of the city.”

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