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City studies changes in Austin’s industrial land use

Tuesday, November 10, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

Mark Walters with the Housing and Planning Department gave a presentation to Zoning and Platting commissioners last week on a city study that evaluated trends of industrial land use in Austin.

Walters said city staffers have noticed the “continuing erosion of industrially zoned land” over the last several years, particularly in Southeast Austin.

“There’s been a lot of zoning cases where we take industrially zoned land and then zone it to commercial mixed-use in order to put large garden-style apartment complexes on one-way frontage roads,” he said.

About 11,657 acres of land in Austin are zoned industrial, or about 6 percent of the city, according to the most recent data from 2018.

Walters noted that under 40 percent of industrial zoned land was used for industrial uses, which are typically located off of major infrastructure.

“By and large, the industrial land in Austin is grouped in a series of larger and smaller clusters throughout the city, mostly located on major freeways,” Walters said. “It makes perfect sense that freeways and airports are really the transportation drivers.”

But between 2001 and 2018, about 1,846 acres of land were rezoned from industrial to non-industrial zones – and that’s not including industrial zoned land lost through neighborhood plan rezonings.

Austin’s industrial land is worth about $9.5 billion, or about 6 percent of Austin’s total value.

Most industrial land in Austin historically has been gained through annexations. On the flip side, one of the bigger losses of industrial land was more than 1,000 acres through the North Burnet/Gateway Regulating Plan.

The city also identified eight clusters of industrial land in Austin and whether they can accommodate more industrial uses or are starting to transition away from industrial uses.

Walters said the most dramatic transition would likely be the North Burnet/Gateway area, through the development of the Domain as well as the Austin FC soccer stadium.

“You really are seeing something fundamentally changing in that part of far North Austin,” he said.

Walters said the recent development of corporate campuses and business parks has been one of the biggest drivers of new industrial uses.

New projects in transition areas should be encouraged to provide sidewalks, bike lanes, stormwater facilities and open space as the areas move away from industrial uses, Walters noted. He added that work should be done to preserve industrial jobs that may be displaced by new residential uses in industrial clusters.

Commissioners were largely complimentary of the city’s work on the study.

“In general, there’s a real lack of attention to industrial redevelopment in the planning practice, so I’m really glad that we’re shedding a light on this,” Commissioner Ellen Ray said.

Commissioner David King said he was interested in how the study related to equity and environmental justice. Commissioner Ana Aguirre asked if the Equity Office was involved in the study, adding that there needs to be more communication with contact teams on projects going up in industrial tracts.

Walters said the study’s substance “wasn’t really to address equity.”

“The focus was to look at, are we losing industrially zoned land, and with that, the possibility of losing those middle-skill jobs?”

The results of the study were previously presented to the Planning Commission.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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