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CodeNEXT density increase could mean parking requirement decrease

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

The spirit of road rage sometimes goes beyond Austin’s congested highways and injects itself into debates revolving around the city’s transit problems. That angst could be felt at the Oct. 10 Planning Commission meeting, when staff presented how parking requirements would shift under CodeNEXT 2.0.

In the Mobility Code Prescription paper published in July 2016, the CodeNEXT Advisory Group advocated for transitioning Austin from its car-dominant roots into a multimodal city. Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey informed commissioners at the meeting that in pursuit of that goal, the second draft of the new land use code had proposed a reduction in parking requirements.

Specifically, the required spaces for single-family use would be reduced from two to one, and requirements for apartment, retail, food sales and office uses would also be dropped down. “People are more inclined than in the past to try to take those other modes (of transportation) if they’re available,” Guernsey said. “The idea is to lessen trips and not need vehicles as much.”

Some commissioners made a link between the challenges of facilitating affordable housing while staying on track with Imagine Austin’s vision of a compact and connected city. Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza said that under the current code the reduction of parking requirements can be used to obtain some community benefit in negotiations with multifamily developments, namely on-site affordable units, but if developers were given that by right it may eliminate that bargaining chip.

“What used to be a 40 percent (parking) reduction for (vertical mixed use) is looking like a 50 percent reduction right off the bat,” Zaragoza said.

CodeNEXT project manager Jorge Rousselin clarified later that higher-percentage reductions as part of the proposed standardization of the city’s density bonus programs were being discussed as a possibility by drafters, but nothing had been set in stone yet.

Outside of bigger multifamily projects, CodeNEXT has promoted the capability of “missing middle” housing types to fulfill housing demand. These products, like duplexes, fourplexes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), make three to four units possible on a single lot in buildings that look more like traditional single-family homes. Commissioner Karen McGraw questioned Guernsey as to what the corresponding parking requirements would be for missing middle. He admitted that duplexes had been left out of a table of the requirements provided to the commissioners, and that he would have to check back with that information, although he did say there was an exception for ADUs.

“If (a property owner) was adding an ADU on the same lot as an existing dwelling, then the parking/loading requirements of development may not apply,” Guernsey said.

Commissioner Trinity White opined that this exception could lead to situations where multiple units on a lot would have no parking, especially when considering grandfathering. Guernsey said that if that concern was shared by the rest of the commission, then language could be added to check that possibility.

“I would definitely not support parking for ADUs,” said Commissioner Greg Anderson, a sign that consensus on the issue may still be far from reach.

“I would like to think that neighborhood character that we’re preserving is the character of (the history of the city’s structures) and not the character of the parking requirements,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson.

Commissioner Tom Nuckols responded that in that case, maybe they should add a provision about trading cars for horses, since some of the city’s older buildings were designed to accommodate them and their buggies. Guernsey added that back then, sometimes “the help” would also live in those carriage houses.

Curious about how we got here? Check out the Austin Monitor’s CodeNEXT Timeline.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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