Austin’s Code Restrictions and What They Mean for You
Austin’s 1984 land development code has been under plenty of scrutiny over the years. In Austin, if a property owner wants to get a zoning change, construct a garage apartment, or improve their property in many other ways, they must hire someone willing and able to navigate the city bureaucracy surrounding our outdated code. Austin’s land development code, which can be rather confusing and complex, often stands in the way of performing upgrades on a property or building the housing Austin needs.
Many believe the land development code in Austin to be nothing short of a mess. What exactly is a land development code, though? Land development codes regulate the use of property and land use throughout the city, including what can (or cannot) be built and more.
What is Austin’s Land Development Code?
The current land development code in Austin was first passed in 1984, when the city had a fraction of our current population, then roughly 392,000. As decades have passed, though, various city councils have revised and amended the code like a bandaid on top of a bandaid. Those changes may have been reasonable at one point, but they have since devolved into a confusing and messy nightmare.
Austin’s land development code has consistently prevented development in high-opportunity areas and environmentally sensitive parts of Austin, like Central Austin, while encouraging growth in other regions, like East Austin. The result has been an inflation of property values and gentrification of low-income communities. With the number one way to cause displacement in a growing city is limiting new housing supply, our outdated code has had predictable negative results on Austin’s lower and middle-income earners.
Austin’s land development zoning rules place restrictions on density in terms of the number of units allowed in the lot, depending on the lot’s square footage and categorization. It also restricts the height of buildings and the amount of impervious cover permitted in a specific lot and often requires things like parking and other requirements that drive up the cost of housing.
Austin’s Land Development Code Throughout History
One important historical example of this code is the “Save Our Springs” ordinance, which was enacted in 1992. The ordinance aimed at protecting the Barton Springs Edward Aquifer by limiting the amount of a property’s land area that could be constructed with impervious cover (building cover). This is because only a specific percentage of the property’s land area could contain materials that don’t absorb rainfall, like concrete.
Specifically, the amount of impervious cover was limited in Southwest and West Austin to 25% and 15%, respectively. However, areas of East Austin allowed for nearly 85% of a property to have an impervious cover. Given these restrictions, it’s easy to see why developers have headed to the east side of Austin to set up new properties.
This dated code restricts the housing supply, and when you consider Austin’s swiftly expanding population, it results in all related costs soaring higher and higher. When the cost of housing and developments rises, affordability declines drastically. Further, over 80% of Austin is zoned for single-family housing where one is allowed to build a very expensive, stand-alone, large home, but not allowed to build a triplex or a fourplex where middle-income earners can pool their resources and outbid the lone high-income earner.
What Does This Mean for Austin Today?
Despite the chaos that has become of Austin’s land development code, the promise remains on the horizon for residents. The current issues with the land development codes have not disappeared, and it will take some time to generate new regulations and codes that allow for change. The need for a clearer, more useful code that prioritizes diversity of housing types above all else should be evident to most. How long it takes these changes to be implemented remains to be seen, but residents of Austin have hope that a positive outlook is in the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about real estate in Austin and want to work with a team of trusted experts, contact HomeBase today.