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Tuesday, January 12, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Planning Commission OKs porch change

There were a lot of long discussions at the most recent meeting of the Planning Commission, but the discussion about changing the city’s Land Development Code in order to allow a more liberal approach to porches wasn’t one of them.

The code amendment will allow street-facing porches to encroach 5 feet into the side-yard setback for properties zoned Rural Residential to Mutifamily-3, which includes single-family zoning. Typically, those properties have a 15-foot side-yard setback.

Planning commissioners approved the change in a vote of 10-0.

Planning and Development Review senior planner Greg Dutton explained that the current code allows similar encroachments in the front yard and that the amendment would just expand that allowance to the side yard, allowing for a wraparound porch, for example.

As to whether there could be a limit on how much of the facade a porch could cover, Dutton explained there was no such restriction currently in the code and recommended that remain the case in order to help “keep it simple.”

“What is ‘porch’?” wondered Commissioner James Shieh. Dutton explained that it was defined as being open on three sides, but the definition really didn’t go much further than that in terms of design standards.

Dutton explained that the change “wouldn’t impact setback averaging at all” because staff measures the setback from the wall of a house, not counting the porch, which is added on.

Architect Girard Kinney said that he was speaking in favor of the change not because of a specific project but because he had observed, as a lifelong Austinite, that “some of the most wonderful houses are ones where you can have wraparound porches.” He said that he believed not having this provision from the beginning, when front-yard encroachment was established, was an oversight.

“Here, if you have a corner lot, with our normal 50-foot lots, it’s almost impossible to design a house to actually (have a wraparound porch) because you have to squeeze the house down in order to allow that porch to happen,” said Kinney. “So it doesn’t happen.”

Kinney noted that, additionally, it’s often the case that the “front” door of a house is technically on the side of the house, and attempting to have a porch that faces the street in that case is also “very, very hard to design.”

In the end, the proposed code amendment was approved with very little conversation and the unanimous endorsement of the Planning Commission. It will now move on to City Council for approval. City Council approved the change unanimously as well, on December 17.

“I think it’s about time that people who have corner lots that have a 15-foot setback get something to address their street with,” said Shieh. “I think it’s a good thing.”

Photo by Laurie Avocado made available through a Creative Commons license.

This story has been corrected to reflect City Council’s approval of the code amendment.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Land Development Code: The city's Land Development Code regulates building and development in the city of Austin. As part of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the code is currently undergoing a rewrite in what is called the "CodeNEXT." That process is expected to be completed in 2016.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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