As I've explained before, the real point of Austin's Vertical Mixed Use ordinance is to open up more property to multi-family development. There is precious little land set aside for that purpose in central Austin. Neighborhood interiors are reserved for single family -- aside from the occasional small multi-family complex -- and most property on commercial streets is set aside for commercial uses. The VMU ordinance aims to fix that. Adding the "V" designation to a property on a "core transit corridor" opens the property to multi-family development, and fairly dense multi-family at that.
Neighborhoods traditionally have fought new multi-family developments. Nothing incites the townsfolk to march on City Hall like a proposed up-zoning for a large multi-family project. The VMU design guidelines and "mixed use" components aim to fix that. They are sweeteners to make the bitter multi-family pill easier to swallow.
For some neighborhoods, though, they are not sweet enough. Their pathological hostility to multi-family housing -- even multi-family housing plopped down on a 30,000-vehicle-per-day transit corridor -- simply cannot be softened by incentives. They will fight multi-family as hard as they can, regardless of the design standards, regardless of the compatibility standards, and regardless of the new mix of retail the developments promise.
Allandale is one such neighborhood. Given its hysterical reaction to the Northcross Wal-Mart, this should be no surprise. But its VMU application was a real gem. Its eligible VMU tracts included most of Burnet from North Loop to Anderson, and all of Anderson from Mopac to Burnet, 2.51 miles of eligible linear frontage in all. Allandale's initial application, however, asked to opt out almost all of its eligible tracts. It volunteered just two tracts: Northcross, which it knew would not be redeveloped as VMU any time soon, and a tract off Northloop already designated for mixed-use. Moreover, it asked that any development that managed to slip through be limited to 12.5 units per acre, a ridiculously low density for multi-family. I characterized Allandale's application as a "temper tantrum" over Northcross. But perhaps it was just that deep-seated hostility to multi-family. As one Allandale resident wrote in opposing VMU in her neighborhood: "I own a home directly behind one of the proposed tracts and prefer to have a warehouse in my backyard than an apartment building."
The Allandale Neighborhood Association tested the waters, though, and got a chilly reception. It therefore caucused to identify its "top priorities" for exclusion from VMU. In the map below, Allandale's eligible VMU tracts are shaded and its "priority" tracts are circled.
Based on my calculations, Allandale's "priority" tracts encompass 1.28 miles of its 2.51 miles of eligible linear frontage (and a full half-mile of the latter consists of the single Northcross site). That's a lot of priorities.
City Council considered Allandale's VMU application on June 18, and I wish I could say that Council took a stand for multi-family. It did not. As the map above depicts, Council agreed to opt-out the properties bordered in red from the VMU district. Moreover, it deferred action on the tracts bordered in yellow. Interpreting subtext is inherently subjective, but I think the yellow tracts will be colored red, too, when Council eventually considers them. If and when that happens, Allandale's VMU district will be reduced to the green-bordered frontage at the corner of Anderson and Burnet (most of which is the Northcross tract), and three short splotches of green along Burnet:
That's a shame. The city needs more land for housing, and VMU promised to provide it. Some neighborhoods have responded reasonably, but this is a bad turn, and one likely to smooth the way for similar obstructionism by other neighborhoods. Council never should have opened the door. I suppose the neighborhoods have worn it down.
There may be a faint silver lining. South Lamar today is the capital of used car lots. Rising land prices likely will begin forcing them out of the area soon. They will need somewhere to go; Austin needs used car lots, after all. Allandale apparently has decided to reserve 1.28 miles of frontage on Burnet and Anderson for them.
Update: Some commenters on the Chronicle blog linked to by M1EK below have questioned the accuracy of my description of their opt-out application. My source: City staff's report (pdf), which includes Allandale's opt-out application.
Allandale did ask to opt out all but two tracts in its initial application. It's in black and white.
The maps above reflect Allandale's revised "top priorities," are dated April 8, 2008, and were taken from the City staff's report. According to staff's summary, evidently prepared after June 5, 2008, (p. 2), "the neighborhood would like to limit density for VMU projects to 12.5 units per acre, . . . "; the map reflects the same request.
I think linear feet of frontage is a good measure of the amount of land set aside for VMU, especially given the relaxed density standards. However, if one wants to use acreage, City staff (p. 2) asserted that Allandale wanted to opt out 81 acres and leave in 41 acres. (It is unclear whether that reflects the initial application or revised "priorities," but, regardless, the bulk of the property it agreed to leave in is the huge Northcross tract -- the one tract it knows will not be redeveloped as VMU for the foreseeable future.)
Tract 5 includes the Burnet Storage Center. I included it among Allandale's requests for exclusion because it was listed as a "priority." My understanding is that some Allandale residents now claim they never wanted to opt it out of VMU, just to opt it out of the VMU incentives. That makes no sense to me because Allandale made the same request for all of its VMU properties. However, if someone has evidence that Allandale explicitly agreed to leave this tract in the VMU district, I will note that here.
Update No. 2: Here is the map from the Allandale Neighborhood Association's own website documenting its requests for exclusion:
- Props to Council (March 18, 2008).
- VMU at City Council: This is very encouraging (Feb. 1, 2008).
- VMU: Time for City Council to enforce the bargain (Jan. 31, 2008).
- Vertical Mixed Use: Not everyone is a grown-up (Dec. 3, 2007).
- Vertical Mixed Use: The grown-ups go first (Nov. 30, 2007).
- A VMU primer (Nov. 30, 2007).
- Breaking the VMU bargain (Feb. 14, 2007).