Austin forges ahead with YIMBY ratifications 

Allowing increased residential density and tall buildings closer to single-family homes

Austin Forges Ahead With YIMBY Ratifications

The YIMBY movement in Austin is picking up steam. 

Austin City Council has approved significant changes to the city’s land development code, enabling the construction of denser housing and taller commercial buildings throughout the city, the Austin Business Journal reported

The changes followed over a dozen hours of public testimony and mark the second phase of the HOME initiative; the first phase allowed the construction of up to three homes on single-family lots. The Home Initiative, approved late last year, also streamlines approvals and eliminates residential occupancy limits. 

Among the recent changes, perhaps the most notable is the reduction of minimum lot sizes for new homes. It allows builders to develop on lots as small as 1,800 square feet, a dramatic decrease from the previous minimum of 5,750 square feet. 

In addition, minimum lot widths have been adjusted to allow for more compact developments. Interior lots with single driveways now require a minimum width of 30 feet, while corner lots and those with shared driveways or alley access need only be 20 feet wide.

The initial proposal called for a minimum lot size of 2,000 square feet, but an amendment by Mayor Kirk Watson reduced it further to 1,800 square feet. 

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Austin also changed its rules regarding “compatibility,” sometimes called “proximity,” allowing tall commercial buildings to be constructed closer to single-family homes. The change, aimed at promoting urban density, means 40-foot-tall buildings can be constructed 25 to 50 feet from single-family properties, and 60-foot-tall buildings can be built 50 to 75 feet away. Beyond 75 feet, standard zoning height restrictions will apply, the outlet reported. 

While many developers are steering clear of the office sector amid record high vacancies, it’s possible that the changes will yield office or other commercial buildings integrated into residential neighborhoods. 

Another change introduced an “equitable transit-oriented development overlay” around Austin’s planned light rail stations. The overlay modifies land use rules within a half-mile radius of the planned stations, allowing for density bonuses that increase maximum building heights to 120 feet in exchange for setting aside a percentage of units as affordable or paying a fee.

Supporters of the changes argue that they will spur development of affordable housing options in Austin. The Austin Board of Realtors endorsed the revisions, highlighting their potential to enhance housing affordability and homeownership opportunities. 

However, some council members and residents voiced concerns about potential displacement of current residents due to the lack of explicit affordability components in the regulations. Council members Mackenzie Kelly and Alison Alter voted against the ordinance changes, citing those concerns.

—Quinn Donoghue

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