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City staffers provide ADU, “site plan lite” updates

Friday, May 5, 2023 by Jonathan Lee

City staffers updated the Planning Commission last week on efforts to make accessory dwelling units easier to build and to create a “site plan lite” to streamline permitting for small multifamily developments.

City Council initiated the efforts through multiple resolutions over the past two years in hopes of encouraging more housing supply, especially “missing middle” housing. 

The code changes are taking a considerable amount of time to implement in part due to their complexity, Brent Lloyd of the Development Services Department told the commission on April 25. 

“Some of the direction that Council provided earlier, while very forward-thinking and well-intentioned, is challenging to implement,” Lloyd said.

The sheer volume of proposed Land Development Code updates (over two dozen) is also causing delays. 

Given these challenges, staffers propose to bring forward site plan lite in multiple phases and ask Council for further guidance on accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

The first phase of site plan lite will exempt developments with four units or less from site plan review – a process development professionals say is complicated, expensive and time consuming, often taking one to two years. Currently, any project with more than two units must go through a full site plan review. Council is scheduled to vote on this change before its summer break in June. 

The second phase, scheduled for Council action in the fall, would create a streamlined set of site plan review requirements for projects with five to 16 units. Lloyd said this phase is harder, since staffers must balance the goals of fast permitting with regulations that address the impacts of larger-scale missing middle projects.

It is less certain when new ADU regulations will pass and what form they will take. Resolutions in 2021 and 2022 directed staffers to prepare a host of changes aimed at removing barriers to ADU construction, including allowing ADUs in all single-family zoning categories and allowing ADUs that are attached to the primary structure. While staffers have responded with an initial set of code changes, some of the more challenging pieces are still in the works.

Given the new Council membership since the ADU resolutions were passed and the likelihood of an ADU bill passing at the Texas Legislature in the coming weeks, staffers plan to ask Council which of the ADU rules, if any, to prioritize at a Housing and Planning Committee meeting on May 23.

House Bill 2789 would enact similar changes to those proposed by City Council. The bill seems likely to become law, with the state Senate version receiving a near-unanimous vote of approval on April 28. 

The Planning Commission also created an ADU working group earlier this year to provide feedback on the proposed code changes and identify other barriers to ADU construction.

Speaking in broader terms, Lloyd said the city is working hard to break down departmental silos and speed up work on amendments to city code. 

“With the recent creation by the city manager’s office of what we’re referring to as the ‘code cabinet,’ which is an interdepartmental team of people that are meant to really collaborate and work together to move code amendments forward, we’re hopeful that we will have the difficult, challenging work done to bring this forward in the very near future,” Lloyd said.

The Planning Commission will have more chances to weigh in on site plan lite and ADU amendments in the coming weeks and months before City Council approval.

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