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Advocacy orgs target compatibility, parking requirements in VMU2

Monday, April 25, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

As City Council discusses VMU2, a proposal to allow taller buildings on sites zoned Vertical Mixed-Use in exchange for more affordable housing, advocacy groups have rallied to scrap what they say are VMU2’s biggest shortcomings: compatibility and parking requirements.

“Eliminating barriers to housing development, like parking minimums and compatibility, is essential,” Chris Randazzo, Real Estate Council of Austin board chair, said in a statement to the Austin Monitor. “It is no longer the time to tinker at the edges of fixing the housing crisis – we need to have all options on the table.”

Compatibility and parking were not part of Council’s VMU2 discussions until earlier this month, when Council Member Chito Vela posted on the City Council Message Board in favor of getting rid of the requirements in exchange for more affordable housing. 

“If we cannot make relatively simple compatibility and parking changes to VMU, I struggle to see how we solve our housing crisis,” Vela said in a follow-up post.

Compatibility dictates how tall buildings can be near single-family homes. Vela referenced a report by city staffers explaining how compatibility restricts most VMU-zoned sites from reaching their maximum allowed heights, making projects smaller or even financially infeasible. According to a separate report by city staffers, Austin has greater compatibility requirements than other cities they researched. 

Advocates say removing compatibility aligns with Council’s preference for dense housing along major roads. “Compatibility alone has prevented thousands of units from being built in the very places Council has indicated they want them – in high-opportunity areas and corridors that are centrally located with access to bus and rail systems,” Randazzo said.

Advocacy group Farm & City launched a letter-writing campaign urging Council to remove compatibility and parking requirements in VMU2. “(Compatibility) doesn’t make sense,” Daniel Kavelman, an organizer with the group, told the Monitor. “Housing cannot be incompatible with more housing.” As for parking requirements, “There isn’t any sort of science behind them,” he said. “What they do is they spread out cities and encourage sprawl.”

Kavelman said if Council doesn’t do away with parking and compatibility in VMU2, it would be “a lost opportunity on the part of Council to make a serious effort to address the affordability crisis and housing crisis that we’re in.”

HousingWorks Austin took a measured stance. In an April 5 letter to Council, the nonprofit said it supports removing parking minimums and modifying – though not necessarily removing – compatibility in VMU2, arguing that both rules decrease the production of market-rate and affordable units and increase the cost of building. But HousingWorks did not urge Council to change the rules immediately; instead, the nonprofit suggested Council direct city staffers to form recommendations on compatibility and parking requirements, among other rules that constrain VMU sites, to tee up further Council discussion.

Council is scheduled to discuss and vote on VMU2 in June. While VMU2 was on the agenda at both Council meetings in April, discussions were delayed to allow time for more community feedback. 

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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