Back in March, Council instructed Staff to draft an ordinance reducing the barriers to "micro units" -- mainly, density restrictions and parking minimums that raise the average cost per square foot of small apartments more than large apartments.
Staff is now pitching its proposal on the boards-and-commissions circuit. Staff is suggesting that the required parking for "micro units" be reduced to 0.6 spaces per unit, and the minimum site area be reduced to 400 sf per unit.
The proposed parking reduction is particularly timid. Efficiency apartments today require 0.8 parking spaces per unit -- at least in the urban core, where they tend to be built -- so Staff's proposal would merely reduce the required parking by one space for every five units. This seems like more of a gesture toward lowering the parking barrier than a sincere effort to lower the parking barrier.
The minimum site area reduction is better. The current minimum is between 800 sf and 2,500 sf per unit in multi-family districts, depending on the precise zoning. As a practical matter, lowering the minimum site area to 400 sf per unit would allow micro-unit developments to achieve a floor-to-area ratio of just 1.25:1 or so (depending on the amount of common area), so this would not open the door to extradordinarily dense development. It would likely make existing height and impervious cover limits the limiting factors for micro-unit developments, though, particularly given the minimal reduction in parking.
But the biggest problem with Staff's proposal is that it is stingy with eligible parcels. Council's resolution called for reducing the barriers for developments located on Core Transit Corridors and Future Core Transit Corridors or within Transit Oriented Development Districts.
Staff is proposing to exclude all Vertical Mixed Use parcels, to exclude parcels within Transit Oriented Development Districts, and to limit the parcels to those with actual frontage on CTCs or FCTCs.
The result is that very few parcels are eligible, particularly in the central city where these sorts of development are most needed.
Staff has prepared maps showing which parcels would be eligible. Here is north Austin:
And here are the parcels eligible in south Austin:
In the true urban core (i.e., north of Ben White and south of 183), there are precious few eligible parcels. There are only three eligible sites on all of South Lamar -- one of which is the site of Post's new VMU-style development. The clump of eligible parcels just north of downtown are all on University of Texas property. UT doesn't need the City's permission to redevelop its property (and some of these parcels, such as DKR stadium, aren't likely to be redeveloped anyway).
The largest clusters of eligible parcels are instead in unmistakably suburban locations, such as along Slaughter in far South Austin, along South Congress south of Ben White, and along Jollyville Road, with smaller clusters on South First near Ben White and in east Austin.
Staff is thus proposing to lower the barriers to micro units mainly along a few choice suburban streets rather than in the central core. Was making small units relatively more attractive in the suburbs than the core really what Council had in mind?