The year 2015 saw monumental growth for Austin in the apartment market. From south Austin to Leander, expansion has been the name of the game. Last year over ten thousand new units were added. Occupancy rates rose and stayed steady at 94.8%, and rental rates went up by 4.5% overall.
As a result of this growth, the city has seen an explosion in building projects that will undoubtedly continue in the future. The question has come up as to whether we are developing and planning in the best way possible. Currently, Austin is relying on a 30 year old land development code that has been in effect since the early 1980’s. Moreover, new amendments have been added to the existing code over 100 times to try and fit the city’s growing needs. This has resulted in an unwieldy and unnecessarily complex code.
In an effort to shape the current development code, and to see how the amendments have affected each other, city planners and code consultants came together to propose CodeNEXT in November 2015. The backbone of CodeNEXT can be rooted back to Imagine Austin, a detailed vision the city planners developed in 2012 of what they want the city to look like in 30 years. CodeNEXT would be the physical implementation of Imagine Austin and would help put a solid development timeline in place.
This could mean big news for the apartment market as CodeNEXT looks to encourage more creative solutions in housing development. Specifically, this could be true in regards to building multi-family units at affordable prices in the more sought after areas of town.
Currently, to meet their needs and budget, residents have to consider places outside the city limits such as Round Rock and Hutto for affordable multi-family housing. That’s why a common theme throughout resident proposals to the CodeNEXT panel members was affordability in Austin housing. One suggestion is it to allow duplexes and fourplexes to be built on lots zoned for single family residences so four houses could be built on lots where only one or two homes would be permitted in the past.
To increase compatibility between current architecture and new construction, form-based zoning is also on the table. Dan Parolek, lead consultant of CodeNEXT, was quoted in Austin’s Community Impact Newspaper as saying; “The city should embrace form-based zoning, a more nuanced method that pays particular attention to how buildings relate to streetscapes and the physical form and scale of the buildings, rather than their uses.” This could ultimately affect the size and scale of multi-family housing that is erected near neighborhoods where one and two story homes dominate in an effort to make a more natural visual transition between the two adjacent structures.
Of course, none of these solutions would mean a quick transformation for Austin. Even when CodeNEXT does come into play, it will take continual evaluation and work to keep it current. However, the hope is that it will set a standard for a cohesive development of the city and therefore a better future for Austin and its residents.
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