urban development
7:26 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Austin Considers Measure Aimed at Lowering Cost of Tiny Apartments

The City of Austin could remove off-street parking space requirements for developers who build some apartments smaller than 500 square feet – dwellings known as "micro-units." Advocates say it could encourage development of the micro-units along public transit corridors.

"We're talking about 300- or 400-square-foot apartments. Is there a market for that? In some cities, it looks like there has been," Council Member Bill Spelman said Tuesday during a council work session. "This is another way of simply reducing the cost. The whole thing is really about affordable housing." 

City code requires most residential developments to have at least one off-street parking space per unit. Council removed most of those requirements for downtown businesses last year. 

City Council member Kathie Tovo raised concerns about removing parking requirements for tiny apartments, saying it might limit the availability of street parking for homeowners without driveways or garages. 

"We know that there will be people living in these micro-units who have no place to park," she said. "There are a lot of areas that rely on street parking because the housing was built at a time when there weren't driveways."

City staff has been examining similar regulations in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere. Greg Guernsey, director of Austin's Planning and Development Review Department, said he was hesitant to predict an impact on neighboring streets, but said they would continue to research what other cities have done. 

"It is of concern," Guernsey said. "I think a lot has to do with the location of the site."

The City Council will vote Thursday on a measure authored by Council member Chris Riley that would direct city staff to come back with a proposed rule.