On the City Council meeting on Thursday, 2/12, we had our first major look at the approach that many of the new Councilmembers will take to zoning and land use policy in practice. The Item that I believe gave us the most insight was a re-zoning case. For background, check out the Austin Monitor story. The basic gist of this case is that the owners of an auto repair shop are retiring and want to sell their land to a developer to build apartments. As this was the first major rezoning case to come before the Council, many of the Councilmembers took the opportunity to state their principles. I present to you the Councilmembers’ own words (not in the order they spoke at Council):
Zimmerman views his decision through a lens of competing property rights: that of the property owner to build as they see fit and an implicit contractual expectation of neighbors that the city will not rezone nearby land. As the opponents didn’t frame their argument in property rights, he decided to vote with the applicants’ property rights. CM Zimmerman voted for the motion to signal support for the project.
Kathie Tovo, generally more skeptical of new development during her first term, doesn’t speak directly to her approach, but asks questions related to whether development could still be profitable with less housing, as well as arguing that the developer should provide more larger (2 and 3+ bedroom units) units. She also mentions “zoning is always discretionary,” pointing to a larger role for Council to play in deciding the details of what gets built and where. CM Tovo voted against the motion to signal support for the project.
Similarly, Ora Houston asks questions regarding how many guaranteed Affordable Housing and accessible units the complex will have. CM Houston voted against the motion to signal support for a larger complex.
Leslie Pool puts forward a theory of balancing the needs of current members of neighborhood associations and future (Millenial) residents. She argues for a slower development process in which infrastructure gets built first, followed by more housing. CM Pool voted against the motion to signal support for the project.
Sheri Gallo expresses support for neighborhood voices in general, but says she doesn’t “understand the neighborhood thought process” on this particular case. She supports the larger complex in part because it is buffered from single-family homes, and because the housing is needed and desired by younger people. CM Gallo voted for the motion to signal support for the project.
Very much like Gallo, Sabino Rentería expresses support for neighborhood voices in general, but also for density. He argues that there isn’t enough land to build single-family housing for all the people who need housing. He also adds a different line of reasoning, arguing that further density will lead to higher quality of place, via slowing traffic, increasing viability for restaurants and other retail and increasing “eyes on the street.” Contra Gallo, he argues that housing creates the political support for more infrastructure. CM Rentería voted for the motion to signal support for the project.
Greg Casar asked questions that indicated an interest in finding the way to make the market-rate housing most affordable, as well as asking whether, if this project wasn’t built, whether there would be other places to place similarly dense housing nearyby, arguing that “more people should have the right to live in that area.” CM Casar voted for the motion to signal support for the project.
Adler expresses a lot of process concerns, arguing against ad hoc zoning cases like this one, in favor of more comprehensive citywide plans. Nevertheless, he argues that while these planning processes are going forward, we need to keep moving forward. He also makes a plea for compromise. Mayor Adler voted for the motion to signal support for the project.
Delia Garza, Ellen Troxclair, and Ann Kitchen
These three councilmembers didn’t offer enough comment on this case to get much insight into their approach to zoning. CMs Garza and Troxclair voted for the motion to signal support for the project; CM Kitchen voted against.