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If it is Broken, Fix it – Austin’s Land Use Code

Posted by Sharon Rosshirt on Tuesday, September 5th, 2017 at 2:54pm.

Austin’s growth is so phenomenal that it has broken the city’s Land Use and Zoning functions. Experts call it the worst in the country. That is the bad news. The good news: we have the opportunity to improve our code beyond what most cities could hope for, and maintain Austin as a great place to live, work, and play.

 It is much easier said and much harder to accomplish. Designing Land Use code is something more complicated than anything most property owners ever deal with. The intersection of the freedom to do anything you want with your property balances with the desire to limit what others might do infringe on the enjoyment of your property. Many are now looking at governmental services as the enemy but in actuality, they are the arbiter of these two positions, and many other interests as well.

 The current clamor for control of taxes means there must be a stop to allowing developers to keep burdening city and county balance sheets with a spread out infrastructure. Demographics are changing and the sub-urban single family house is not as desired by the ‘Silver Tsunami’ and Millennials, two growing demographic groups who are looking for areas which are safe, vital, and walkable; with homes that are smaller and easier to keep. Economists examining this specialty say most of the coming economic investment, which we need to stay vital, will be in areas that they label as ‘Smart Growth’ areas. These areas tend to be mixed use areas with walkable lifestyle features with sufficient people in proximity to support the services.  And because the city has made some good decisions in the past, we have better potential to take advantage of these investments.

 We know that the old code has caused some of our problems. Our current land use policies, with their origins in the 1930’s, were smart for their time but we now know the effects this type of development has had on the cost of running city and county, on taxes, on traffic, on health and even happiness. Limiting the number of homes or even the size of living units in subdivisions and neighborhoods is an idea that is not that old, but now we are realizing the huge toll those limitations have brought to cities (taxes to you), affordability of property, availability of the services we want, and the big one - congested roads. One defining example is how we all used to live in close proximity to work, school, and recreation; and now it is rare to do so.

 When you hear about the CodeNext process, listen with an open mind with an eye to the future. What you have wanted in the past may not be what you want now or in the future. Watch this space for more details as we will be sharing more insight. Or call us. We have worked hard to be up to speed on this very important process. 

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