I fear that this piece in today's Statesman is a prelude to some sort of an initiative by a Council member to put a moratorium on VMU development in the South Lamar area.
This deserves a longer response than I have time for right now. But whenever you hear a central Austin activist spin fantasies of a looming density doomsday, remember this:
Most of Central Austin is less dense today than it was in 2000. Most census tracts in South Austin actually lost population between 2000 and 2010, including the neighborhood supposedly "threatened" by the new apartments:
This decline in population is mostly driven by shrinking household sizes in these neighborhoods rather than declining demand. Given the demographic trends, though, it takes a fair amount of development just to maintain the status quo. If everything proposed is built, Zilker might show a small gain in population in the 2020 census. The neighborhood is not in danger of being overwhelmed by people.
Handwringing over new VMU projects in Zilker is particularly unwarranted because the Zilker neighborhood is severely underzoned for multi-family: only 11% of the Zilker neighborhood's residential property is zoned multi-family, and of that, only 2.6% is zoned at the reasonably dense MF4 or MF5 levels. The VMU designation added some theretofore off-limits commercially-zoned property to Zilker's miniscule stock of multi-family-zoned property. Given the pent-up demand for multi-family housing in South Austin, it is no surprise, and should cause no alarm, that some is being built and more is being proposed.
And if the new developments ultimately require us to make improvements to South Lamar or other area streets, so what? We need to make improvements to South Lamar today. The street historically was a commuter arterial catering almost exclusively to the automobile. But it is urbanizing. South Lamar has seen a lot of positive redevelopment since I wrote this in 2007. Several small strip malls have been renovated recently. The street has added restaurants and bars. We've lost a handful of used car dealerships the last few years, one to an Amy's Ice Cream with a small playground. The street needs some attention from the city today, including more stoplights, crosswalks and better sidewalks. If new vertical mixed use developments force the city to add stoplights and crosswalks, that should be a plus, not a negative, for those of us in the South Lamar neighborhoods.
(Update: Original map updated with more recent, accessible version.)