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Wednesday, June 30, 2021 by Jonathan Lee
Planning Commission recommends updates to land use plans for E. 11th and 12th streets
In the late 1990s, City Council decided to revitalize so-called blighted areas east of downtown through urban renewal plans. Now, over 20 years later, the city is updating these plans along East 11th and 12th streets.
The primary goal is to simplify the East 11th and East 12th street urban renewal plans and their associated neighborhood conservation combining districts (NCCDs), which meticulously outline development standards for individual tracts, to better align with community priorities and facilitate predictable development.
Several planning commissioners, based on their work with neighbors and recommendations by city staffers and the Urban Renewal Board, proposed updates to the height and density (i.e., floor area ratio) entitlements in certain parts of the NCCDs, in addition to other land use updates. The most significant recommendation is the increase in allowable floor area ratios (a common way to regulate density) for nearly all tracts in both districts; commissioners, however, stopped short of allowing unlimited FAR, as proposed by the Urban Renewal Board and city staffers. Commissioners also recommended decreased height limits below what is currently allowed for certain areas.
The two NCCDs, which aim to preserve a neighborhood’s built environment and make new development match the height and density of existing buildings, promote separate visions. The East 11th Street NCCD allows relatively dense residential and commercial uses. The East 12th Street NCCD, on the other hand, constrains sites to smaller-scale commercial and residential development. Much of the East 11th Street NCCD has already been redeveloped, while the stretch along East 12th Street has seen less development.
The commission passed all the recommendations easily. Recommendations to largely prohibit hotels and the sale of liquor passed unanimously, and the changed site development rules passed with only commissioners Jeffrey Thompson and Claire Hempel voting against or abstaining.
The recommendations that decreased entitlements sparked the most debate.
“It’s one thing not to increase the entitlements, but another thing to scale them back,” Thompson said. “And I can’t support that.” Thompson argued that the city should look to increase density in order to prevent sprawl.
Commissioner Joao Paulo Connolly argued in favor of the decreases. He said density gets approved along two-lane streets like 11th and 12th in East Austin, but such density is never considered for properties along similar streets in other parts of the city – another example of inequitable development patterns.
“I’m usually arguing for denser development in Austin, and I appreciate the need to grow and make more space for people, but at the same time, we need to do it in a way that’s even and that’s equitable,” Connolly said.
Thompson countered that the commission recently had the opportunity to increase entitlements on the west side with a South Lamar zoning case, but failed to recommend it.
Commissioners James Shieh and Grayson Cox wondered whether the recommendation would unfairly take away entitlements from property owners. Some property owners outside the Urban Renewal Plan area but within the East 11th Street NCCD, facing decreased entitlements, requested that they be exempt from the changes. Other commissioners said that the move followed precedent and assured that the sites would still be viable for development.
City Council will discuss the changes at its next meeting on July 29. Community members can learn more about the proposed changes at SpeakUpAustin.org.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
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.
Urban Renewal Board: The Urban Renewal Board oversees the city’s Urban Renewal Agency and any plans associated with the agency. The Urban Renewal Plan’s primary purpose is to “eliminate slum and blighting influence within a designated area of the city.”