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In 2012, Austin adopted the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which calls for creating a new Land Development Code (LDC) to accommodate Austin’s growth, to enable a compact and connected city, and to meet other city goals like sustainability and affordability. This new LDC will replace our 1984 code, which has been patched and amended so many times that it is extremely difficult to interpret and use.  

The land development code is a roadmap for how Austin will develop. It determines what can be built, where it can be built, and how much can (or cannot) be built. However, the effects are seen beyond buildings as it impacts everything from transportation and outdoor signage to public space, first floor uses, walkability, and watershed protection. The new LDC will align future development with the goals of the Imagine Austin, Downtown Austin Plan, Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, and other plans to guide future growth. 

In 2016, the Downtown Austin Alliance formed a task force of experts to make our first set of recommendations for the new LDC. This task force is still active today and is composed of Downtown Alliance board members and super-users of the LDC—architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, market experts, real estate attorneys, and others. 

New Draft Released

On October 4 the City of Austin released a new draft code that is quickly advancing through the public input process. Our staff and task force members are reading and analyzing the code draft, testing to see how the code works in real-life scenarios, working with our Evolve Austin coalition partners to compare notes, and providing input to city staff and policymakers.

Our highest goal for the code is to let downtown be downtown. Some other concepts that guide our detailed recommendations include: 

As Austin’s urban center, and according to the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, downtown can support the highest density of housing and jobs in the region. We support a future that maximizes appropriate development potential in downtown.

We support denser, transit-friendly development along Austin’s most traveled roads. Transit options connecting the city’s hubs are essential to a heathy thriving downtown, and vice versa. Adjacent neighborhoods should be respected with appropriate transitions.

To accommodate the unique character of the many neighborhoods and districts downtown, we support planning and code updates at the neighborhood and district scale.

We support a downtown density bonus program where developments earn extra square footage by contributing community benefits such as affordable housing. This voluntary program should enable new development to either provide affordable housing or contribute funding to build affordable housing elsewhere. In order for developments to use the program, it must be attractive enough. Community benefits should be generous, but should not take more of the incremental value created, or the extra square footage will not be built and the developer may choose to locate their building elsewhere where regulations are more attractive. The incentive should attractive and predictable so that the development builds downtown and builds significantly more than the code allows without a bonus.

Since most developable sites downtown are quarter- or half-block, many projects will earn more square footage in the density bonus program than they are given by right. Getting the density bonus program correct is essential to continuing to build tax base that supports the rest of the city.

 

Milestones

    • May 2, 2019 – Council adopted policy direction for staff to use as it finalized the October 4 draft LDC. This included language that supports our vision for downtown Austin—”to maximize the potential for employment and residential units within Downtown in accordance with the Downtown Austin Plan and the guidance in this document, with affordable housing benefits included and calibrated.”
    • October 4, 2019 – LDC Draft released
    • November 12, 2019 – Planning Commission finalizes recommendations
    • December 9, 2019 – City Council adopts new LDC on first reading

To keep up to date on our city code efforts, sign up for our newsletter

For weekly updates and ways to get involved, visit the City of Austin’s LDC page

Sign up here to receive Downtown Austin Alliance email updates.

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