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Planners seeking the ‘missing middle’ in zoning

Friday, January 31, 2020 by Jo Clifton

During the past 10 years, only about 2 percent of housing units built in Austin fell within what planners call the “missing middle,” according to planners rewriting the city’s Land Development Code. Annick Beaudet and Laura Keating, who reported to the Council Housing Committee on Tuesday, said their team had made that discovery while researching how the new code could provide for more market rate housing.

In Austin the missing middle currently refers to sites with 3 to 11 units with more than one bedroom in order to have housing that is more available to people with families.

Beaudet, who leads the code rewrite effort, told the Austin Monitor, “In our continued work on developing the missing middle zoning districts with this comprehensive code revision, we are taking feedback from the Council and community members and also just looking at development regulations and how do we write them in a way that make a product … viable in an infill situation and also a greenfield situation. So as part of that we wanted to understand what has been built in the Austin market in the last 10 years that fits in this definition.”

The team developing the new code will release the latest version of the proposed code with nearly 200 amendments and a new zoning map on Friday.

Beaudet told the committee staff had considered all 199 amendments proposed by Council and had incorporated all but about 10 percent of those into the latest draft. Some amendments did not fit into the code because they were policy directives and staff was still trying to figure out how to work with some of the other Council suggestions, she said.

Council will hold two four-hour meetings next week, one on Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 4) and one Wednesday morning (Feb. 5), for a full discussion of the latest iteration of the code. Beaudet said her team would be “going into great detail on the affordable housing bonus program” at Tuesday’s meeting, with one of the city’s consultants to help explain the plan. Staff will also be explaining changes to the proposed zoning map at that Tuesday meeting, she said.

Next Wednesday, Beaudet expects to present “a lot of modeling and renderings” to show what could happen in the other zones that were requested by Council. She promised deep detail on matters such as floor-to-area ratio, impervious cover and a housing preservation incentive as Council requested.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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