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Garza wants more low-cost housing for MUD

Friday, October 9, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Although zoning for the Pilot Knob Municipal Utility District received unanimous approval on first reading Thursday, District 2 City Council Member Delia Garza tried hard to get the matter postponed in order to get a promise from the developer for more affordable housing.

Prior to coming to Council, the proposed Planned Unit Development zoning for Pilot Knob won the unanimous blessing of the Environmental Commission as well as the Planning Commission and was recommended by staff. The 2,200-acre development in District 2 is located at the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and the proposed extension of William Cannon Drive.

The developer, Brookfield Residential, has committed to providing 10 percent of owner-occupied units at 80 percent of median family income when they are initially offered for sale, as well as 10 percent of rental units at 60 percent of MFI for a period of 40 years.

In addition, the developer has promised to make a financial contribution to the city’s affordable housing program equal to 2 percent of the total “hard” construction cost reimbursements the developer actually receives up to a maximum of $8 million. The commitments are part of the MUD agreement between the city and the developer that was signed in 2012.

However, Garza told her colleagues, “I can’t vote for a PUD that nobody in my district can afford to live in.” Garza said the PUD should be a tool to get more affordable housing but acknowledged that Council “can’t do inclusionary zoning because that’s illegal.”

According to the Texas Local Government Code, “A municipality may not adopt a requirement in any form, including through an ordinance or regulation or as a condition for granting a building permit, that establishes a maximum sales price for a privately produced housing unit or residential building lot.” It is not illegal to require that rental units be rented at a certain price, however.

Garza said that although 80 percent of the median family income for the city is $61,000, in her district 80 percent of MFI is $34,000.

Attorney Richard Suttle told Council it was important to get the first reading done and to finish up on second and third reading in November. He has been working with the developer on the project for more than three years to get to this point. Brookfield is providing land to the Del Valle ISD for two school sites, plus land for a future city of Austin fire/EMS station.

Suttle said, “I can’t plat it until I’m zoned. … And I’m supposed to deliver the school site in the first quarter of next year.” It can’t be delivered to the school district until it is zoned and platted.

As her colleagues weighed in on the question, it became clear that there may have been only two votes to postpone the matter, Garza’s and Council Member Greg Casar’s.

Casar tried to ask Garza exactly what number she wanted to put into the resolution, but she didn’t provide a number, just said that she wanted to be sure that the affordable housing would be greater than 10 percent.

Suttle promised to meet and talk with her “with an open mind on the numbers.” It might not be easy, though. The developer expects houses will start in the $150,000-$180,000 price range, which would be considerably more than someone making only $34,000 a year could afford.

Council Member Ann Kitchen came up with a solution that Garza could agree to – approving the PUD resolution with a blank in place of the 10 percent for affordable housing. That solution worked on Thursday, but it won’t work next time.

Suttle also pointed out other ways in which the proposed Pilot Knob development would be superior to a regular subdivision. The property will be designed according to the city’s commercial design standards, with pedestrian-oriented uses on the first floor of multistory commercial or mixed-use buildings.

The developer has also promised to restore critical water quality zones as well as other environmental amenities, and all buildings will be constructed to achieve an Austin Energy green building program designation of two stars or greater, even though the MUD is not within Austin Energy’s service area. Each of these promises is already in the MUD agreement.

The amenities include 400 acres of open space, including parkland, with $400 per residential unit for parkland improvements, which is twice the amount recommended by the Parks and Recreation Board guidelines.

Pilot knob” photo by Larry D. Moore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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