Land Development Code Draft 2 Release Statement

AURA is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization that advocates for an Austin that is inclusive, open to change, and welcoming to everyone.

Unfortunately, the second draft of the new Land Development Code rewrite is a significant step backward from the first. Despite council passing many important pro-housing amendments, significant resolutions and goals were either not incorporated, or rolled back entirely. Meanwhile, the current draft includes changes from the first draft that ignore or exacerbate our city’s housing crisis that are not referenced anywhere in any council directives.

In particular, we were disappointed to see the following:

The rollback of transition zones in Central and West Austin. 

We believe this is directly counter to council’s directive to increase capacity in Central and West Austin, and counter the intent of council’s May 2019 resolution to increase opportunities for everyone in these high-opportunity areas.

The effective decrease in occupancy limits.

Our interpretation of the second draft is that The Group Residential and Co-housing use definitions have changed in such a way that makes their total occupancy 1/3 of a standard by-right development.

We cannot find any council direction to suggest that occupancy limits should be decreased from the current code, much less the first draft of the rewrite.

The status quo is broken and we need to take strong confident steps forward to address our housing crisis. We believe that council can address these issues, and other discrepancies, from the dais on the second readings. We look forward to working with them to create a new code that all proponents of affordability, sustainability, and equity can proudly support.

“Given the results of the 2018 election, City Council knows they have a mandate to pass a new Land Development Code as soon as possible. We encourage them to continue to listen to the truly progressive voices that elected them and deliver a code that meaningfully increases the supply and diversity of housing, particularly in central Austin.”

Kevin McLaughlin, Chair AURA Land Use Committee

Kevin McLaughlin, Chair AURA Land Use Committee
+1 817-312-6800

How Upzoning Affects or Doesn’t Affect Taxes

  • TX law prohibits the tax assessor from appraising a residence homestead as any other use, regardless of zoning
  • Recently changed TX law requires a tax election if the City raises rates more than 3.5%, down from 8%
  • The broader the upzoning, the more distributed the demand

It’s 2019, the city is entering its 5th (plus) year trying to amend our land development code. As housing prices continue to increase – and exacerbate the number of people experiencing homelessness – our city is now deep in the midst of a housing crisis. Though our unemployment rate is low, people are having to commute from further and further away. With all these issues, we are finally starting to see real change. We passed our largest Affordable Housing bond last November in addition to electing a slate of pro-housing leaders. In May, Austin City Council directed staff to jump start the land development code rewrite process; Staff submitted their first draft on October 4th.   

As our city digs into the first draft of the land development code, there are homeowners that are worried their property taxes are going to increase. Part One of the context for this argument is to analyze the current property wealth appreciation in the status quo, without any upzonings. The median list price for Austin homes has gone from $234k in 2010 to $399k this year, which equals about a 70% increase. As properties appreciate in value, appraisals increase in value also. 

However, upzoning, by itself, doesn’t raise a residence homestead property’s appraised value; it’s based solely on its use as a residence homestead. 

Per TX law: (d)  The market value of a residence homestead shall be determined solely on the basis of the property’s value as a residence homestead, regardless of whether the residential use of the property by the owner is considered to be the highest and best use of the property.

To be clear, assessments of homesteads do not happen in a vacuum. Even if the assessment for a single property upzoned to multi-family or mixed-use remains as a homestead, the demand in that area could increase. This increase in demand, if associated with higher sales prices than would have occurred otherwise, would result in a higher appraisal. Another way to think of this scenario, when a school suddenly gets a higher rating, this would also function as an increase in demand. Or if an area got a new amenity, or popular business opened nearby, that would also result in higher demand. In contrast to the last two scenarios, upzoning demand shocks can be minimized by broadening the upzoning. The broader we upzone for multi-family and mixed-use, the broader the demand will be spread out.  

For an (extreme) example, an outlier, we can look to what would happen if a single family house was upzoned to allow downtown zoning. This happened here in Austin when Rainey Street was upzoned to Central Business District (CBD) zoning in 2005. And from 2005 to 2019, Rainey Street has grown substantially. Where before, single family homes sat blocks away from downtown, now high-rises and entertainment venues now sit. Where a dozen-plus families lived before, AISD reportedly now runs school bus service down Rainey Street.

Even though we are a city that has faced population growth year over year since our inception, change still elicits angst. It was that angst that was reflected in June when the last [single family] house on Rainey St. went on sale. One article notes, “[the] family home at 71 Rainey St. was built in 1910 and bought by [the current owner’s] grandparents in the 1940s.” 

Another story points out that “the house is listed online for $2.6 million. Travis County appraised the property at $1.1 million this year, nearly four times the appraised value in 2014.”

Nearly 14 years after being upzoned, one wonders what the property tax impact was to the owner. The property’s assessed value, appraised value, and listing price is $175k, $1.1m, and $2.6m, respectively.

While the property’s value skyrocketed in price, the property owner paid $3k in property taxes last year (~$9/day). The 10% cap on appreciation insulated the owner while their wealth increased multiple times over the years, that’s the system put into place. Some would say the system worked, the property owner was still paying a lot less in wealth taxes than many other people in the city with property valued at far less than $2.6m dollars.

Source: TCAD

Taking this extreme example, while the property increased substantially in value, the owner still only paid on average ~$276 per month. Or ~$9 a day. To be clear, this amount of money is/can be a significant burden to people, rejecting upzoning doesn’t address that issue. If we want to help people choose to stay in their house as property taxes (and their wealth) increase, we should offer them direct assistance and financial tools to do so. 

For example, California recently legalized public banks. Bringing public banks to Austin would be a way for disadvantaged property owners to access capital and build additional housing or mixed use on their property so they could afford property appreciation. 

In addition to TX’s 10 percent cap, there’s other exemptions such as the Homestead Exemption in addition to exemptions for seniors and veterans. Worth noting, Austin is a majority renter city, these exemptions do not apply to them nor to (small) businesses. 

While property owners in the city enjoy numerous exemptions, the city, and certain other taxing entities, are now required to go to voters if they adopt “a rate exceeding the 3.5 percent voter-approval rate.” In other words, even if upzoning increased housing demand in Austin, City Council would need to go to voters to approve higher tax rates that are much lower than increases we’ve seen over the past few decades.

Another factor for increased property taxes that many people face is the lack of wage growth or almost zero wage growth for retirees. Though this is an important issue that many Austinites are facing on a daily basis, we do not fix it by disallowing more people to live inside the city. We need more equitable rules that the City is, frankly, unable to adequately address. 

To face these issues of equitable growth, we need more housing, not less.

What Would Obama Think of Austin’s Land Development Code?

“We can work together to break down rules that stand in the way of building new housing and that keep families from moving to growing, dynamic cities.”

— President Obama, remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors,
January 21, 2016

In 2016 the Obama Administration released its Housing Development Toolkit to help address the “local barriers to housing development [that] have intensified, particularly in the high-growth metropolitan areas increasingly fueling the national economy”. 

The toolkit lists several actions communities can take to help cities:

  1. “protect homeowners and home values while maintaining housing affordability”
  2. “reduce commute times, and increase use of public transit, biking and walking”
  3. “reduce economic and racial segregation”
  4. “[reduce] greenhouse gas emissions”

Needless to say, Austin is one such “high-growth” metropolitan area, where “housing production has not been able to keep up with demand”, thus “exacerbating the housing affordability crisis.”

That affordability crisis along with protecting the environment and decreasing traffic are the main reasons that our city is rewriting its Land Development Code. Below we list the recommendations from the Obama Housing Toolkit and how they are implemented, or not, in Austin’s proposed Land Development Code.

“In more and more regions across the country, local and neighborhood leaders have said yes, in our backyard, we need to break down the rules that stand in the way of building new housing – because we want new development to replace vacant lots and rundown zombie properties, we want our children to be able to afford their first home, we want hardworking families to be able to take the next job on their ladder of opportunity, and we want our community to be part of the solution in reducing income inequality and growing the economy nationwide.”

From Obama’s ToolkitIn Austin’s Code Rewrite
Establish by-right development
“by-right” development allows projects to be approved administratively when proposals meet local zoning requirements. Such streamlining allows for greater certainty and more efficient development and, depending on a locality’s regulatory approach, supports lessening of barriers from density limits and other zoning requirements.
The new code allows more by-right development in almost every part of Austin, be it multi-family apartments along corridors, missing middle housing (duplexes up to 10-plexes) in transition zones, or accessory dwelling units and duplexes in small-scale residential lots. 
Streamline or shorten permitting processes and timelines 
Permitting processes can introduce yet another source of cost and uncertainty in the effort to increase housing supply through production. Unnecessarily lengthy permitting processes restrict long-run housing supply responsiveness to demand.
The new code streamlines the patchwork of regulations that make up our current code into a simpler, more unified code.
  Eliminate off-street parking requirements
Parking requirements generally impose an undue burden on housing development, particularly for transit-oriented or affordable housing… By reducing parking and designing more connected, walkable developments, cities can reduce pollution, traffic congestion and improve economic development.
The new code reduces or eliminates minimum parking requirements along major corridors defined in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan and the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan.
Enact high-density and multifamily zoning
Local zoning code changes that allow for the development of higher-density and multifamily housing, especially in transit zones, can help to alleviate some of the pressure of the growing population in many city centers.
The new code allows for denser multi-family apartments along major corridors, and “missing-middle” homes like 4-plexes and townhomes in “transition zones” near corridors.
Allow accessory dwelling units
Accessory dwelling units can expand the available rental housing stock in areas zoned largely for single-family housing and can address the needs of families pulled between caring for their children and their aging parents.
The new code allows for Accessory dwelling units (garage units, granny-flats, etc) in almost all areas of Austin.
Establish density bonuses
Density bonuses encourage housing development and incentivize the addition of affordable housing units by granting projects in which the developer includes a certain number of affordable housing units the ability to construct a greater number of market rate units than would otherwise be allowed.
The new code includes density bonus programs that incentivize the addition of Affordable units everywhere in Austin.

The following recommendations are either not allowed under Texas State Law (2, 8, 9), or would be enacted separately from the land development code rewrite:

2. (Tax vacant land or donate it to non-profit developers)
8. (Employ inclusionary zoning)
9. (Establish development tax or value capture incentives)
10. (Use property tax abatements)

Land Development Code Draft 1 Takeaways

On October 5th, the day after the release of the first draft of the Land Development Code, over 50 AURA members and allies met to read through the code and provided code-level comments. 

You can see all of those comments, organized by categories and tag on our website here

We’ve also created an annotated PDF version of the code with the same comments inline here.

Finally, you’ll find both a summary and the details of the criteria for each zone here.

Note: the website and PDF comments are interlinked so you can click on a page number on the website to open the comment in the PDF or click on the footnote in the PDF to open the comment on the website.

Below is a summary of our most important findings. We look forward to working with staff and the City Council going forward to create a pass the best possible code we can so we can make Austin more affordable, environmentally sustainable, with opportunities that are open to everyone.

The Good and Great

We’re excited to see zoning for mid-scale residential housing like 4-plexes and 8-plexes near Enfield, 45th, and elsewhere in West and central Austin. These are high opportunity areas with short commute times to downtown and other job centers that have been excluded from more affordable housing development for too long. Council’s direction called for wider transition zones in areas like these that are not vulnerable to displacement, and we’re happy to see that reflected on the map.

We’re excited that the proposed code text would generally make ADUs easier to build in more places and in more ways. As discussed in the Obama administration’s Housing Development Toolkit, ADUs help remedy a number of housing needs including providing more affordable housing in every neighborhood, providing tax relief through rentals options, and helping “address the needs of families pulled between caring for their children and their aging parents, a demographic that has been growing rapidly in recent years”. Allowing ADUs in almost all of Austin will fulfill the council’s goal of adding all kinds of homes, for all kinds of people, in all parts of town.

We’re excited that duplexes are allowed to be larger than single-family homes in Residential House-Scale zones (because duplexes are allowed more floor area ratio [FAR]). This will provide a much-needed incentive to build more homes instead of just larger ones. Under the current code, even on lots where two units are allowed, too often we see demolitions result in only a larger single-family home being built instead of two homes. The increased FAR for duplexes will help mitigate that.

Strong Potential

Limited Site Plans are a great idea, but their usefulness will come down to the details. More work and more reform may be needed to make Missing Middle projects easier to build.

We’re hopeful for the preservation bonus — we love the idea in principle. We’re eager to see testing to evaluate its feasibility on the ground.

Needs to Change

Minimum lot sizes in Residential House-Scale zones are reduced slightly, but still enormous at 5,000 square feet. AURA has long called for eliminating minimum lot sizes entirely, and we will continue to do so. It is crucially important that we at least reduce them by half or more in this revision if we want to become a more affordable and equitable city.

Minimum lot sizes serve no other function than to make neighborhoods more expensive (See The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein). They are big a reason why Austin is among the most segregated city in America by race and income
Council direction to staff recommended reducing minimum lot sizes “to achieve the goals elsewhere in this document”. While the current draft nominally follows this guidance, it is our firm belief that it needs to taken significantly farther.

Land Development Code Draft Release Statement

AURA is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization that advocates for an Austin that is inclusive, open to change, and welcoming to everyone.

The first draft of the new Land Development Code is a solid step in the right direction. While any new policy of such complexity and magnitude is bound to have issues, we believe that the first draft demonstrates the city’s commitment to making a more affordable and environmentally sustainable Austin with opportunities that are open to everyone.

In particular, we were pleased to see the following:

  1. The draft allows for far more accessory dwelling units (ADUs) than the current code. ADUs are critical to creating more market-rate and affordable housing in every neighborhood in Austin.
  2. The draft eliminates or reduces parking minimums near many central corridors, demonstrating the city’s commitment to shifting from car-focused transportation to a truly viable public transit system.
  3. While far from perfect, the transition zones will begin to allow for more dense, mixed-use, and transit-supportive housing within a ten-minute walk of major corridors.

Overall, we look forward to working with staff and council over the coming months to turn this draft into the best possible code it can be so our city can become more affordable, environmentally sustainable, and create more opportunities that are open to everyone.

“Given the results of the 2018 election, City Council knows they have a mandate to pass a new Land Development Code as soon as possible. We encourage them to continue to listen to the truly progressive voices that elected them and deliver a code that meaningfully increases the supply and diversity of housing, particularly in central Austin.”

Kevin McLaughlin, Chair AURA Land Use Committee
Kevin McLaughlin, Chair AURA Land Use Committee
+1 817-312-6800

Note: a previous version of this release suggested that daycares would not be allowed in all Austin neighborhoods. They are, in fact, allowed in every zone.

Intro to Austin’s Land Development Code

A brief introduction to Austin’s Land Development Code rewrite.

What is it?

Our land development code is the city’s rules for what we’re allowed to build – apartments, duplexes, restaurants, and offices – where we’re allowed to build them, and how much we’re allowed to build.

The current land development code, ie the rules we’re operating under today, was written in 1984. Alot has changed about Austin since then so the city is rewriting the code to do a better job guiding growth and development.

Why is it important?

First and foremost, the code will determine how much housing we can build in Austin, which determines how many people can affordably live in Austin.

Second, the types of homes we build and where we build them determine where and how people in Austin live. For example, if we can build more apartments in central Austin, then more people can live in central Austin with fast and affordable access to job centers like downtown. 

When is it happening?

City staff will release a draft of the code on October 4th. This is only a draft and will not take effect until City Council votes to approve the code, which will likely happen between January and March of 2020.

You can see the full timeline here.

What do we want?

Simply stated we want a land development code that lets us build more types of housing throughout Austin and particularly in central Austin where many people want to live, so our city can become affordable, environmentally sustainable, and full of opportunities for everyone.

Want to learn more?

News outlets

Official documents

If you like to get involved, joins us at one of our events or shoot us an email at

Proposed Hancock Historic District is Deeply Flawed

Over the past few months, a proposed plan to rezone the Hancock neighborhood as a Local Historic District has garnered significant community interest. While still in its nascent phases, this is a clear step in the wrong direction for the city, particularly as it struggles to address an increasingly acute housing crisis and encourage density and affordability in its urban core.

While historic preservation is often a laudable goal, historic district zoning like the one being floated for the Hancock area appears more about preventing new development by locking in single family zoning in perpetuity. The impact is two fold. First, homeowners subjected to these designations surrender significant property rights. If approved, the rezoned area instantly becomes subject to design standards set by the Austin Historic Landmark Commission, an unelected body that does not have established qualifications for appointment. Any exterior changes to contributing structures must be consistent with dictated design standards and are subject to review. Even so-called minor exterior changes such as new light fixtures require at least five business days for administrative approval.

Arguably worse still is the impact such poorly targeted rezoning proposals such as the one proposed for Hancock have on Austin’s livability. As Austin seeks to address the challenges caused by its growth, the Hancock proposal aims to freeze a low density, single-family model in place right in Austin’s urban core. The result is to ensure that economically disadvantaged Austinites are frozen out of the area, exacerbating the inequality in our city. Hancock’s specific characteristics make this problem especially acute. Hancock’s location near the university, downtown, and multiple major transportation corridors make it an ideal place for more dense and diverse housing options, students, and families seeking to access central Austin without using cars. However, without affordable housing, these groups will effectively be forced out to the periphery and likely into single occupant vehicles in areas with low walkability. That is a loss for us as sprawl and congestion increase as our lived environment is degraded.

While the problems with the proposed Hancock rezoning are legion, Austin’s process for enacting such restrictive zoning covenants unfortunately favors their proliferation. As the City’s recent Hancock Neighborhood District Discussion Q&A document makes clear, approval of such restrictive historic rezoning proposals requires 51% of either the individual property owners or the total land area in the restricted area. As such, a minority of large property owners could effectively foist such a rezoning proposal on the neighborhood even if a majority of the residents stand in opposition. In fact, in Hancock the city is one such landowner. Austin’s properties — parks and the Hancock golf course — are automatically deemed to support the restrictive rezoning. Given Hancock’s makeup, this likely means that up to one-third of the land in the area will immediately count towards the 51% approval threshold. That is to say, the deck is stacked heavily in favoring or restrictive rezoning efforts.

There are things we can do, however, to fight such restrictive rezoning covenants. At this stage, the most critical action is to simply stay engaged and make our voices heard. The city has committed to at least one additional facilitated meeting. It will be important for neighbors and friends who care about Austin, livability, and the environment to make our voices heard. Beyond advocating for a fairer future for the city, organizing through Austin’s petition rights process will be key. Under this process, when 20% or more of the area costs in the restrictive rezoning area submit a written protest to the zoning change, the change must be approved by a three-fourths majority of the City Council. Triggering this supermajority requirement may be a critical step to preventing Hancock from effectively becoming walled off from the rest of the city behind a fence of restrictive single-family zoning covenants and a moat of regulations. However, such a step will require organizing and perseverance to see it through.

Austin Needs More Neighborhoods like North Campus

I moved away from the North University neighborhood earlier this week and I already miss the area. I lived near the intersection of 38th and Guad in a granny flat nestled in a former church complex. The collection of buildings was converted into residences but continues to share common spaces, which creates an intimate sense of community. College students, retirees, and families live in close proximity, making the neighborhood a more open and enjoyable place. I loved this home and the surrounding neighborhood. 

North University has a higher density than much of Austin and the location within central Austin allows for easy access to excellent dining options, retail, and services. Bounded by Guadalupe to the west, 38th to the north, Duval to the east, and UT Austin to the south the neighborhood is smack dab in the middle of central Austin. North University dwellers can hop on the 7 bus along Duval or any of the Guadalupe busses to reach any part of Austin they desire. Or they may stay in the area for their activities. 

Residents have easy access to the retail area just north of campus along San Jacinto and the Speedway curve. Guad is a quick walk, scoot, or bike ride away and the Central Market/Park area connects North University to Lamar. The delights of Hyde Park are a quick jaunt across 38th and the Hancock HEB combines with Central Market to keep North University fueled. 

One of the greatest features of North University is the abundance of green space. Adams-Hemphill Neighborhood Park, Sparky Pocket Park, Central Park, the Hancock Golf Course, and Eastwoods Neighborhood Park are all easily accessible from North University. The access to green space, retail, and services increase the quality of life for North University residents. With close proximity to so many activities residents may walk to dinner instead of hopping in a car, and along the way they may say hello to neighbors or stop in a park, adding to the sense of community in North University.

I moved to an area far away from central Austin. The houses are far apart, places to eat, shop, or find services are all a far-away along roads that make walking or biking unpleasant. There is a park, but its location within the neighborhood is not easily accessible by foot, pedal or scooter. This neighborhood is much less desirable than North University.

Austin needs more neighborhoods like North University that are dense, diverse, and close to amenities. However, the same things that make North University great force people away from the neighborhood. The central location, access to reliable transit, and proximity to activities causes the land values to rise which renders the neighborhood unaffordable to most of Austin’s population. We as Austinites must create more neighborhoods like North University and keep similar neighborhoods affordable and accessible for all.

Life in Mueller’s Mixed-Use Neighborhood

I’m a relatively recent arrival to the Mueller neighborhood, but the more time I spend here, the more I come to appreciate the unique blend of livability, amenities, and proximity to downtown that the area offers, as well as the genuine sense of community I feel here.

As a renter in Austin, I’ve sometimes felt disconnected from the neighborhoods in which I live. Renters and homeowners living in the same neighborhoods do not always share the same public space or communicate regularly. Here in Mueller, though, I feel like the neighborhood itself has been designed in a way to encourage meaningful everyday interactions among residents of all backgrounds and visitors.  

The mixture of residential, retail, and office spaces in Mueller means I have an incredible array of options for entertainment and food within walking distance of my apartment, and it also ensures that there is a sense of vitality and a human presence in the neighborhood at pretty much any time of day. A typical week for me, for instance, might involve studying or working remotely at Halcyon, grabbing a beer at WhichCraft or a pastry at Quack’s, and catching a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. The energy at the heart of Mueller and the sheer array of options of things to do immediately made an impression on me when I first visited the neighborhood.

A fundamental part of Mueller’s vibrancy and its sense of place – something around which all the life of the neighborhood revolves – is the amazing infrastructure of public parks that the neighborhood boasts. First and foremost, there is Mueller Lake Park, which is the shared gathering space of residents of all stripes and visitors alike and home to regular farmers markets and concerts. On pretty much any given evening, you’ll see parents out strolling with their children after a visit to the Thinkery, couples enjoying a quiet moment overlooking the lake, teenagers taking photos to commemorate a quinceañera or their prom, and Austinites of all ages playing sports or exercising. This focus on welcoming, well designed public spaces is echoed in the wealth of smaller parks and public squares that dot the Mueller area, as well as the extensive Mueller greenbelt trail, and it’s one of my favorite things about living here.

These sorts of enriching human interactions are all made possible by the neighborhood’s embrace of a diverse array of housing types that make it possible for Austinites of different means and backgrounds to share a life together in this community. Walking block to block in Mueller, you’ll see apartments next to modern single-family homes next to duplexes and townhouses. This diversity of housing stock and an emphasis on density contribute to a dynamic urban fabric that makes Mueller feel at once energetic yet human in scale, modern yet still unmistakably part of Austin.

There’s no reason why the rest of Austin can’t be more like Mueller if we get the current Land Development Code rewrite right. By focusing on applying the kind of density, diversity in housing, mixed-use zoning, and public amenities that I see here in Mueller in all parts of Austin, all Austin residents will be able enjoy the kinds of benefits open to the residents of Mueller today.

West Campus Best Campus

West Campus. Wampus. Hell on Earth. Heaven on Earth.

Whatever you choose to call it, West Campus is a predominant feature of the University of Texas.

On any given day, one can see an abundance of students bustling around the area; walking home from class, mingling with their friends while grabbing a bite of well-deserved fried chicken, or racing to their study session on a scooter. 

It is an area full of life, activity, and community.  It is also an area that has one of the highest densities in Austin. 

This is unsurprising to those who have visited West Campus recently. Towering, luxurious apartment buildings dominate the landscape and the many construction sites promise more to come. However, this was not always the case.

Prior to 2004,  West Campus was filled with small-scale buildings and homes converted into rental properties for students. While this supported the student population during the University’s formative years, iit was not sufficient enough to accommodate the growing population of students.  Due to the lack of availability of housing and the increasing price of rooms as demand increased, students were forced to occupy other areas of Austin such as Riverside and commute to school.  

Though some students prefer to commute to school, studies have shown that location is central to a student’s experience at college. Commuting students are less likely to feel that their school wants them to thrive, to identify with the school, or to report a ‘sense of belonging to or feeling wanted by the institution.’ Students  also report lower levels of involvement in extracurricular activities (59% of commuting students vs. 75% of residential students) and less social connection to the school. These statistics are intuitive to students; it’s more challenging to attend a last minute study session with your peers at the PCL, stay late working an extracurricular event, or attend a late-night party with your friends when you have to plan your commute and carefully consider time, money, and safety. 

University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO) set out to ensure that students could have the choice to live in West Campus, and wouldn’t be forced to live off campus due to availability or affordability. Finalized/Legalized in 2004, it’s expressed purpose was to:

 “promote high density redevelopment in the area generally west of the University of Texas campus, provide a mechanism for the creation of a densely populated but livable and pedestrian friendly environment, and protect the character of the predominantly single-family residential neighborhoods adjacent to the district.” 

In short, it allowed for more, and higher, development in West Campus. Pictured below is the UNO overlay for the area.

UNO was quite controversial at the time as many wondered how it would affect the area’s character, or if it would increase noise and traffic. Though these concerns are legitimate, UNO has shown to be a net positive for the area. Improving density has:

  1. Increased the number of students who can live near campus
  2. Improved affordable housing for students
  3. Increased diversity of West Campus Residence
  4. Decreased reliance on cars

Increased the number of students who can live near campus

Over the past 15 years, more than a billion dollars  has been invested into developing West Campus (which has provided more than 25 million in annual tax revenue) and has added over 10,000 new rooms to the area. At a school where the undergraduate population stands at 40,804 students, this represents adding housing that could support an additional 25% of the undergraduate students. 

Improved affordable housing for students

UNO’s zoning laws enable lower-income students to find a home in West Campus. Because of the new laws that stipulate that developers are required to set aside a certain number of units for eligible people, West Campus is now home to one of the largest concentrations of affordable housing developments in Austin.

Increased diversity of West Campus Residences 

Improving West Campus’ density has not only increased the availability of housing and affordable housing for students, but it’s also improved diversity in West Campus. Census Tracts 6.03 and 6.04 reported the following numbers from 2000 to 2010:  

 Census Tract 6.03

  • Non-hispanic white: declined from 70.3% of the population to 59.1%
  • Hispanic:  increased from 9.4% to 13.1%
  • Black or African-American: increased from 2.0% to 2.6%
  • Asian: increased from 17.3% to 25%

Census Tract 6.04

  • Non-hispanic white: declined from 75.4% of the population to 65.7%
  • Hispanic: increased from 9.3% to 12.5%
  • Black or African-American:  increased from 1.6% to 2.4%
  • Asian:  increased from 13% to 19.3%

Decreased reliance on cars 

UNO has not only helped to improve UT’s community, but has helped the environment and reduced transit issues. The migration of students to West Campus has eliminated the need for students to drive to class, and therefore has reduced the student body’s car dependency. Additionally, parking per person has decreased in West Campus as well. The number of parking spaces per bedroom in West Campus decreased from .9 parking spaces to about .6 parking spaces per bedroom from 2004 to 2016. This is likely due to a number of factors that stem from improved density including the walkability of the area, the addition of nearby grocery stores, and the improvement of public transit.  

Looking at the Future 

From fighting environmental and transit issues to increasing affordable housing, UNO has helped to improve West Campus and its community. 

Community, however, is not just for college students. From a new young professional moving to Austin for the first time, to a family looking to make connections in a new neighborhood, or an Austinite who has been in the city for 20 years, everyone is looking for and needs a community just as much as a student coming to UT from cities or states away. West Campus has shown that density can create this community, and it should be looked towards as an example for the future of Austin.