The CodeNEXT maps are out and, predictably, hand-wringing has ensued. The City released a tool allowing one to compare the old and new zoning side by side. People have begun looking up their neighborhoods to see what has changed. Even modest changes have provoked cries that the consultants are proposing to bulldoze neighborhoods.
It is hard to grasp the extent of the change at a macro scale using the CodeNEXT mapping tool. How much land was placed in a transect zone? How much land retained its prior (but renamed) zoning? GIS-jock Michael Theis at the Austin Business Journal has put together some great interactive maps. This one shows the amount of land placed in a transect zone other than the dense T5U and T5MS zones. (The T6 zone is quite easy to map: there is none.)
The place to start assessing the new code is not the maps, however, but the table the consultants released along with the maps. This table summarizes the amount of buildable housing units the consultants expect each zoning category to produce over the next 10 years.
If you read the table closely, you will see that despite the (to some) gaudy total of 143,900 units, the proposed CodeNEXT maps more or less maintain the status quo.
Rather than focus on the gross number of buildable units, let's break this down by existing zoning and new transect zoning.
Downtown and the University Neighborhood Overlay will retain their zoning. Literally, the same, down to the last MF-3-CO. Northwest downtown will be given new "Commercial Core" (CC) zoning to more or less match the Downtown Austin Plan, but given the prevalence of historic structures in this part of town, don't expect much change there.
The new code will also leave PUDs and Transit-Oriented Districts (TODs) completely untouched.
The consultants predict these zones will produce:
The consultants expect tens of thousands of single-family homes and multi-family units to be developed within existing (but renamed) multi-family and single-family residential zoning districts, most of which I'm sure is greenfield development on the City's fringes. I haven't seen any hard stats on whether any of these involved upzonings, but from my review of the maps, the "old" zoning districts seem to have been mapped faithfully onto the new zoning districts. The totals for these mostly unchanged zones are:
Single family: 21,865
The consultants are thus looking to the traditionally zoned districts for the great majority of new units (almost 112,000 of the 143,900.)
The consultants predict a capacity of 3,000 units for the South Central Waterfront, the proper zoning of which they leave for another day.
The remaining housing supply, 29,000 units, is left to the new transect zones.
Let's put that number in perspective.
Just 4,210 units -- or approximately 3% of the total housing supply -- will be produced by the T3N and T4N zones, excluding the T4 Main Street Zone. Put differently, only 3% of the total housing supply will come from the interior of neighborhoods with transect zoning. Given that almost all of the transect-zoned land falls within a neighborhood interior, this is a modest goal.
But even this number is not a net increase in existing zoning. The existing supply of SF-3, SF-4A & 4B, SF-5, and SF-6 land in the urban core is already producing a steady stream of units. Will the new zoning nudge that spigot further open or closed? We don't know because we don't have a before-and-after comparison of zoning capacity; we're just getting the "after." But it's hard to believe that the new transect zoning will produce more than a few hundred additional units over existing zoning.
What about the dense transect zones? It is also hard to assess the supply offered by the T4MS, T5N, T5U and T5MS zones. The chart shows 24,833 units for these four zones. The question here is not whether that's a lot. (It's not really: it works out to just 2,483 units per year, or around eight large apartment complexes per year spread around the urban core.) The question is whether this number is an improvement over the status quo.
We can't say because, again, we haven't been given before-and-after numbers to make a comparison. But there are already thousands and thousands of potential units within these areas already in mixed-use, vertical mixed-use and high-density multi-family districts. It's hard to believe we're getting an increase of more than a few thousand units.
This is why the proposed maps maintain the approximate status quo. The vast majority of the 143,490 new units would be available under current zoning anyway. We'll spend much of the next year arguing over changes that will affect, at most, a margin of a few thousand units.
Disclaimer: The statements above are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the opinions of any client or other person or organization. Please see the About Me section.