Wednesday, May 5, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Council wants Project Connect TOD plans in place ‘pronto’

The city is set to overhaul its transit-oriented development policies to allow denser, more equitable development near future Project Connect stations as soon as possible. 

“We need to be ready from the word ‘go’ to let areas near our transit system be able to grow in a way that maximizes ridership potential,” Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison said.

“At the same time, we cannot, we must not and will not let our residents who currently depend on transit lose access to it once it becomes a first-class service.”

City Council is likely to pass a resolution Thursday proposing a comprehensive equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) plan for Project Connect’s Orange and Blue light rail lines, Green regional rail line, Gold bus rapid transit line, and MetroRapid bus routes. 

“The end goal is to have a policy plan in place that serves as a guide to make necessary changes to avoid potential displacement, maintain affordability and provide for more opportunities for more people of all income levels to live and work near these transit investments,” Harper-Madison said.

Council expects a complete eTOD policy plan within 14 months, and interim policy recommendations within seven months.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will lead the work, having already begun eTOD studies for parts of the Orange and Blue line corridors with funds from the Federal Transit Administration. A separate Capital Metro TOD study for the Green Line, funded by a 2018 FTA grant, is also nearing completion. City staffers from other departments will play key roles, as will consultants, neighborhood groups and other community members.

Once these policy recommendations come back, Council will discuss and potentially amend them before putting them into the Land Development Code.

Because proximity to new transit service often leads to higher housing costs, a main focus of the plans will be keeping people already living along the transit corridors in their homes. That goal is bolstered by Project Connect’s $300 million in anti-displacement funds, which will be used over a 12-year period to create and maintain affordable housing along the new transit lines.

The resolution offered a few specific policies for staffers to mull, including reducing or eliminating parking requirements – or even establishing parking maximums – as well as simplifying the building code to streamline the development process.

The plan may also involve updating existing TOD plans, including those adopted in 2005 for the Red Line, so that they better align with current priorities. “The current TOD regulations … don’t have anything about affordable housing,” Council Member Ann Kitchen observed. 

“We know that transit investments are like catnip for developers,” Harper-Madison said. “The market is already gearing up for the new development opportunities along the corridors, and frankly, that clock is ticking to get in front of it – pronto, really.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Project Connect: This project brought together a series of Central Texas transportation agencies looking to build high-capacity transit options in the region in the wake of CAMPO's 2035 regional transportation plan. The City of Austin's much-discussed 2014 Urban Rail plan was part of Project Connect's efforts.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD): Mixed-use residential and commercial areas designed to be compact and walkable.

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