Austin Architects Say CodeNEXT Limits Opportunity For Missing Middle Housing

Jun 28, 2017

As Austin’s new land development code, known as CodeNEXT is being written, city staff and the private sector are working to understand how it will shape future development.

Last month, members of the Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, or AIA, tried their hand at applying the new code to neighborhoods across the city. A group of 72 architects, developers, attorneys, engineers and planners took part in a roundtable that applied the proposed regulations to hypothetical development scenarios. David Carroll with the AIA presented their findings last night during a joint meeting of Austin’s Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission.

“Those participants were divided into seven teams,” Carroll said. “We were looking at seven different area types in Austin. We looked at a neighborhood low-density residential area. We looked at a central neighborhood residential area.”

In the end, Carroll said the design exercise raised some concerns. Namely, the AIA says the code seems to limit the opportunity for building more missing middle housing. Tyler Stowell with the AIA said one key constraint is that projects with more than two proposed units require a full site plan review by the city.

“[That] would of course add time, complexity and cost to an owner seeking to do a modest three or four-unit development that would otherwise look and feel exactly like a single-family house,” Stowell said.

The AIA proposes eliminating that requirement for projects with 10 or fewer residential units. Stowell also noted how easy it is to get bogged down in the new code's intricacies. He said during the exercise, some design teams noticed a footnote halfway through their planning processes and had to start from scratch.

It’s worth noting that during the AIA exercise, some key sections of CodeNEXT had yet to be released. Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Jolene Kiolbasa asked whether the group would conduct a follow-up exercise using the newly released density bonus section. Stowell said the group would incorporate that if they choose to do a second roundtable. The AIA aims to complete a final report on the findings of their exercise in the coming weeks.

Last week, the Austin City approved issuing an additional draft of CodeNEXT, which will undergo further scrutiny by city commissions. Council is scheduled to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in April 2018.