Austin's proposed new land development code poses barriers to building what's called "missing-middle" housing, a group of architects and other development experts say.
Missing-middle is multi-unit housing, like duplexes and townhouses, on a single parcel of land that might otherwise have just one single-family home on it. Proponents say missing-middle housing is more affordable.
“There were certainly areas that didn’t allow as many building types as we would have liked to have seen," said David Carroll with Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which applied the proposed code to neighborhoods across the city. "And there was no clear reasoning as to why those building types weren’t allowed.”
Carroll, chairman of the group's CodeNEXT advocacy task force, said restrictions on what buildings should look like could make missing-middle housing harder to achieve. He also noted that any proposed projects with more than two units would have to go through a full site plan review by the city. The process can add significant time and cost, leading developers to prefer building more expensive single-family homes.
Jorge Rousselin, the city’s CodeNEXT project manager, said Austin is considering changing those rules to make missing-middle housing easier to build.
“It’s something that was not intended to essentially be perceived as penalizing the missing-middle housing types," he said, "but we’re evaluating how we can create a process that essentially would not require a full-blown site plan for these types of developments."
The AIA report also recommends that Austin revamp neighborhood plans that set goals for future development in an area. Carroll said he thinks those rules limit the impact that CodeNEXT can have, making it harder for the city to become more compact and connected.
“We were finding that on a lot of the sites, it was essentially mapping the status quo of what we have today already on the ground," he said. "We felt, obviously, that doesn’t meet the goals of Imagine Austin."
Carroll doesn’t think the city could become more compact and connected without redoing neighborhood plans, but he questions how likely such a revamp would be.
The second draft of CodeNEXT is set to be released next month, after which there will be more opportunities for public feedback. City Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in April.