CodeNext draft proposes major changes for anxious Allandale community


Highlights

Some older residential neighborhoods worry that CodeNext will bring more density and traffic.

CodeNext seeks to give developers more housing options to support citywide affordability.

Todd Shaw and Amy Wood haven’t changed much about their Allandale home since they bought it in 1992.

Aside from a back room addition about a decade later and kitchen renovations about a decade after that, the house, built in 1950 along the banks of Shoal Creek, still looks much like it did when they moved in.

Out back, a few yards from the porch, sits a small clubhouse, complete with a zip line leading down to a bench swing and tetherball set, all of which were installed years ago. Shaw wouldn’t mind renovating the clubhouse and updating the rest of the backyard, but their 16-year-old son, Ian, insists they keep it as is.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

He and Wood feel the same about the rest of Allandale, too. There are Halloween parties and other neighborhood events they attend every year. Their next-door neighbor, in her 90s, is one of the many original homeowners in the area. And the architect who designed their home, now in his 80s, still lives down the street and goes for regular morning runs through the neighborhood

“These are the things we think are valued about our neighborhood,” said Shaw, the Allandale Neighborhood Association’s zoning chair. “We know we need more housing supply in the city, but we don’t want our single-family neighborhoods to take the bulk of it.”

Most of the existing regulations for the city’s residential neighborhoods were preserved in the initial draft of CodeNext, the overhaul of the Austin’s land use and zoning policies. Yet some communities, Allandale more than most, could see far more sweeping changes.

RELATED: How CodeNext maps could forecast change for two Austin neighborhoods

This north-central Austin neighborhood, established in several phases from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, is characterized by the post-World War II and midcentury single-family houses, the many original homeowners and the tree canopies lining the streets.

“Old houses, big yards, lots of trees and really quiet. That’s the vibe,” said Marshall Thompson, president of the Allandale Neighborhood Association.

But under the first draft of CodeNext, 80 percent of the neighborhood was designated a transect zone, one in a series of zoning designations created under the first draft that transition from more rural to more urban development — and a stark contrast from the single-family standard zoning that currently exists there.

The initial proposed change would allow more units to be built on each lot in the neighborhood, giving developers housing options the old code didn’t allow, such as cottage courts.

“One of the promises that was made to us was that the city was taking into account the style and character of each neighborhood, and that the zoning designation was going to reflect what we have now,” said Thompson, who bought his home from its original owners in 2008. “It’s like they were promising and promising one thing, and then finally came out and said, ‘We’re going to change this a lot.’”

Alina Carnahan, the city’s spokeswoman for CodeNext, said the mapping process for the first draft took into account a multitude of factors, including existing neighborhood plans, the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and previously enacted City Council policies.

In Allandale, the introduction of transect zones throughout most of the neighborhood resulted from its close proximity to schools, businesses and transportation corridors. In the first draft, Carnahan said, most transect zones were placed in locations with these elements because they could potentially support additional growth.

Transect zones additionally give developers more housing options that are intended to support citywide affordability in neighborhoods like Allandale, where property taxes and housing prices are soaring, while accommodating city growth.

RELATED: CodeNext draft would open up city to garage apartments

“There are places today where you can build an accessory dwelling unit or a duplex, but there are a lot of hurdles,” Carnahan said. She said adding accessory dwelling units — which are small dwellings on the same site as an existing single-family home — “makes it easier for someone who couldn’t normally live in a certain neighborhood because of prices to afford it while allowing the homeowner to make some money to pay their loans, too. We don’t want to promise that we’re making it immediately affordable for everyone, but we’re just trying to get us on the right track to do that by adding these options.”

But while Thompson said most of the neighborhood acknowledges and supports the need to create additional housing in the city, there is widespread belief among residents that the new zoning regulations put too much pressure on neighborhoods like Allandale.

In early April, after months of reviewing the first draft, the Allandale Neighborhood Association submitted a position paper to city officials outlining the neighborhood’s concerns, which included issues of parking, drainage and affordability.

The association and its members questioned whether the code’s efforts to encourage greater density in the area would actually promote affordability in the city. And given Allandale’s location – nestled between MoPac Boulevard’s traffic congestion and Burnet Road’s retail outlets and other businesses – they argued the first draft’s reduced parking requirements would increase traffic and overflow parking on generally quiet, residential streets.

And with that added density comes another source of anxiety.

Shoal Creek, which has been prone to flooding in past years, runs directly through the neighborhood, which is bordered on the north by West Anderson Lane and on the south by West 45th Street. Rising creek levels have been a major concern for Allandale residents since the Memorial Day floods of 1981, Thompson said, which killed 13 people across the city.

Currently planned developments in the surrounding area, such as the Austin Oaks business park redevelopment, are already worrying residents about flooding risks and the impacts to the creek.

RELATED: City Council signs off on Austin Oaks redevelopment

Those concerns were heightened by the first draft of CodeNext. While the new regulations maintain or reduce existing caps on impervious cover, or surfaces that cannot absorb water, Allandale residents worry they don’t go far enough.

“Has the city really studied and analyzed the impact on our creeks to carry that extra water?” said Shaw, whose street flooded in 2015 after the storm drains in the neighborhood backed up. “We’re not getting good answers.”

Council Member Leslie Pool, who represents Allandale and other areas in District 7, said she and her staff have been working overtime to understand the code and its implications.

Pool said she shares many residents’ concerns that the first draft too aggressively forces density into Austin neighborhoods without adequately taking into account their existing characteristics, an impact Mayor Steve Adler said CodeNext would not have in his 2017 State of the City Address in January.

“The original promise that the new code would be a direct translation of existing zoning didn’t happen,” Pool said. “People have been very vocal in what they are asking for, and in the end we want to retain what’s special about this city, and that’s our neighborhoods. They’re not cookie-cutters, and we don’t want them to be.”

While Allandale residents remain concerned about CodeNext’s impacts, city officials have announced that the code’s second draft, which is expected sometime in August, could show significant change. In the next draft, transect zones will be renamed and rewritten as “R” zones in an attempt to make the code less complex.

RELATED: CodeNext ends Round 1, new zoning classifications coming

But while some transect zones could receive a direct R zone translation, other areas could be rezoned all together based on public feedback and other considerations, Carnahan said.

“In the next draft we’re looking at seeing if we did a good job (defining what zone) is appropriate,” Carnahan said. “You could get a zone that remained unchanged from the first to second draft, and just rename the zone from transect to R … but we could also reconsider it” and revise the regulations and form standards.

In the meantime, the Allandale Neighborhood Association plans to collaborate with outside organizations, like the CodeNext-centered, grass-roots organization Community Not Commodity, to further express their neighborhood’s concerns and to push for change.

“Us alone as one neighborhood is not going to be as influential as if we team up with other groups,” Shaw said. “There’s a lot to be concerned about. It’s not a good first draft.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to note that duplexes are not prohibited in Allandale under existing code, and to clarify the levels of impervious cover allowed under parts of the initial CodeNext draft.



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