So this happened last night (since deleted):
And this too:
So this happened last night (since deleted):
And this too:
Last month, City Council took up one of their first large zoning cases, a proposed apartment complex near Burnet Road. Many of them used the opportunity to expound not only on the case in question, but some of the principles behind their decision, and I duly blogged those takes. Zoning changes require 3 “readings” (i.e. 3 different votes). If there’s no disagreement, all 3 readings can happen on the same night. But in this case, there was disagreement, so they only passed the vote “on first reading,” and this last Thursday, revisited it. If you’re interested in the background and outcome of the decision, check out Liz Pagano’s take in the Austin Monitor. Me, though? I’m interested in hearing what the Council Members had to say about their approach to zoning.
Gallo here notes that the majority of Austin rents, neighborhood associations don’t always do a good job representing them, and it’s the responsibility of City Council to look out for all residents, not just the organized ones. Readers of this blog will be familiar with both the renting and neighborhood association ideas.
Here, Gallo gives her opinion that the reason why rents have risen in Austin is an imbalance of supply and demand, and suggests more housing supply is needed to stop price increases. This, again, is familiar territory on this blog.
CM Rentería, similar to CM Gallo, believes that raising supply will stabilize prices.
Casar offers a number of ideas here. First, he discusses a “filtering up” mechanism, where, if new housing doesn’t get built, old (or “vintage”) housing can become more expensive, giving as an example housing his brother lives in in Los Angeles.
Another two ideas that Casar argues for are that: 1) building housing is in and of itself, a “community benefit.” 2) There is an additional “economic integration” community benefit to having some portion of that housing be mandated Affordable Housing. Neither of these ideas are new to council. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to hear both of them in the same speech. Frequently, the “economic integration” argument appears on the side of somebody arguing against denser zoning. In this case, though, Casar appeared to be arguing for greater density as a mechanism for making more Affordable Housing economically viable for the developer.
I publish this not because Adler offered much background on his approach to zoning here, but because of the previous rarity of seeing a Council Member ask a developer to consider greater density on a site. (Sorry, I accidentally cut the video short; the developer said yes, he would consider it.)
Garza offers two items of note: 1) delays in the development process add to the costs of housing, and 2) Austin is a high-demand city, and when there isn’t enough housing supply in richer areas, this adds to gentrification pressures in poorer areas.
Troxclair offers a bit of a procedural take, arguing that Council’s way of using zoning as a negotiation tool encourages parties to take extremist positions. She appears to have misspoke when she said she couldn’t support MF6; she voted, as she did in the previous reading, for the higher-density MF6 and against the lower-density zoning.
Finally, we hear from the applicant, C.J. Sackman, the developer of the project. I’m including this testimony not because his views will have lasting impact on the Council the way that Council Members’ do, but because they’re broadly representative of developers’ views.
CM Pool (District 7), CM Kitchen (District 5), and CM Houston (District 1) emphasized that, because there was disagreement between a neighborhood association objecting to the project and the developer and because the two hadn’t fully negotiated, they wanted to pass a lower zoning category on 2nd reading only, to pressure the two sides to negotiate. CM Zimmerman (District 6) thought there had been enough testimony, and moved for the decision to be made for the higher zoning category on 3rd reading. Mayor Pro Tem Tovo (District 9) voted with Pool, Kitchen, and Houston. In her testimony, Tovo focused on whether the developer could have provided steeper discounts on the Affordable Housing apartments, to target a poorer population.
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.
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.