CodeNEXT proposes doing some good things (reducing parking requirements!) but also some bad things. Two of those bad things -- and they're very bad -- are setting a minimum lot depth for single family homes and increasing the required minimum interior setbacks for single family homes.
Let's start with lot depth.
Today the code requires standard lots in SF-3 to have 50 feet of street frontage and 5,750 square feet. It does not mandate a specific minimum depth, however. A 5,750 sf lot might be 50' by 115' -- a typical configuration -- but it might also be 65' by 88'. Similarly, an "urban home" lot must have street frontage of 35' and 3,500 sf, but it can meet these requirements by being 50' wide and 70' deep.
The draft code ditches the explicit minimum area requirement. But in its place the code substitutes depth regulations. The minimum dimensions of the "standard" single-family lot will be 50' wide by 100' deep (75' if the house backs onto an alley). That allows 5,000 sf lots. 5,000 is smaller than 5,750, and smaller lot minimums are a good thing in a city with a dire need for housing, particularly housing in neighborhood interiors.
And there's no question that most residential lots in Austin are at least 100 feet deep. Our central neighborhoods brim with old, platted lots of 50' x 115' or 50' x 120'. Setting a minimum lot depth is no big deal for these lots. And I'm sure that's what Opticos was thinking: we'll make the typical dimensions mandatory and stop people from developing atypical lots.
But, again, the existing code does not regulate lot depth at all and has never done so. There are hundreds -- thousands, more likely -- of single-family lots that meet the existing minimum area requirements but are not 100' deep (or 75' if they back onto an alley).
I went looking for examples and didn't have search far. My home sits in a small new urbanist-type infill development. The smallish homes in the neighborhood are approved for 3,500 sf lots. But their lots are not 35' x 100', they're more like 47' x 78' (and most don't back onto an alley). They will all be nonconforming lots under the new regulations, which is a strange policy decision since these houses were approved less than two decades ago.
Older central neighborhoods also have plenty of shallow lots. The "Santa" streets between E. 6th and E. 1st, for example, are only 68 feet deep. Avenue G south of 51st has approximately 67' deep lots. You can find substandard lots on Avenue C north of Koenig. Etc.
And good luck if you have an irregular shaped lot with plenty of street frontage but a weird configuration.
The Mueller development -- which the City touts as the ideal new urbanist infill model -- has several standard lot types that will be too shallow. Mueller won't be governed by the new transect regulations because it is a PUD with its own regulations, but it is, again, strange to declare common lot sizes in Mueller too shallow for sound central city infill development.
Turning a bunch of perfectly legal l0ts into nonconforming lots is horrible policy. Nonconforming lots can continue to be used as a single-family residence if one already exists, but they can't be developed with a single family home if one doesn't. They certainly can't be redeveloped with modern housing. If you are the property owner, your only hope is to squeeze it into an arcane exception or seek a variance from the Board of Adjustment. This, naturally, will increase the pressure on the new code to adopt exceptions to the general rule. The code will either be unnecessarily complex or unnecessarily unfair.
Minimum lot dimensions are perfectly sound for greenfield codes, but we are working with complicated development patterns that have accumulated over many decades. It makes no sense to suddenly start measuring lot size in a new way. The code should ditch depth requirements (at least for single family homes) and just substitute the new implied minimum lot areas.
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