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Panel OKs parking cuts for some small apartments

Thursday, March 19, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

In some parts of the city, accessory apartments on residential properties — called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — may soon have fewer parking requirements.

The Planning Commission Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee voted 2-1 in favor of easing parking requirements for ADUs in most of the city. A motion made by subcommittee member Stephen Oliver would allow neighborhoods with a formal neighborhood plan the ability to opt out of the change.

Subcommittee Chair James Nortey supported the motion. Member Jean Stevens seconded the motion for discussion, but ultimately voted against it. The item now goes to the full Planning Commission and on to City Council.

The City Code amendment would change the current requirement of two parking spaces per ADU to one parking space for dwellings that are more than 550 square feet. ADUs less than 550 total square feet would require no parking space. The change stems from an August Council resolution intended to make it easier for residents to build ADUs on their property.

“I want more ADUs. I want better ADUs,” Oliver said. He added that at the subcommittee’s February meeting, input from the public made it clear that easing parking requirements in some neighborhoods — such as East Austin — would spur construction of ADUs and create much-needed rental stock in the city. On the other hand, in areas like Hyde Park, parking was already scarce, and the change would negatively affect the neighborhood.

City staffer Ming-ru Chu told the subcommittee that any changes to ADU requirements should be enforced citywide. Jerry Rusthoven from the Planning Development and Review Department said, “That (change to parking requirements) does not substantiate all the work that would go into an opt-in, opt-out process.”

Nortey disagreed, saying, “I do believe ADUs are a very necessary tool that we need in this city.” But, he added, the city must also respect the diversity of its neighborhoods.

Ex officio member Jeff Jack said enforcing a blanket change to parking requirements is “really stepping on land mines.”

“People have made choices about where they want to live,” he said. Therefore, he explained, it would be unfair for the city to change the rules. Jack also suggested that if a neighborhood without a plan goes through the planning process in the future, the neighborhood should then be able to opt out of the eased parking requirements retroactively.

Oliver agreed, adding that the old ADU requirements would remain the same for neighborhoods that choose to opt out.

Chu emphasized that the change only affects lots on which ADUs can already be legally built. The change would not affect lot size requirements for ADU construction.

At its February meeting, the subcommittee asked city staff to reach out to CodeNEXT consultant Opticos for input. Tuesday, Chu reported that Opticos told her it could not work beyond its scope.

The subcommittee took no action on the city’s other proposed amendments to ADU requirements, such as stipulating that all second-story windows facing a neighboring property to be constructed above eye level and allowing apartments to be built within 10 feet of the rear or side of the main structure.



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