A Monster In The Village? - Fear mongering about our future

logo-tr.pngOne of the most famous original Twilight Zone episodes is called "It's a Good Life" and tells the tale of a young boy from Peaksville, OH with immense power to conform his small town to his own idea of perfection in the blink of an eye. Apparently there is one organization in Austin that thinks the Council has this same power and they have something to say about it!

Community Not Commodity (CNC), a dba of political action committee "Save Our City Austin" which itself is a re-branding of "Let Us Vote Austin SPAC" which was a major backer of the failed Proposition J from 2018 (from the city's Campaign Finance portal), is running Facebook ads with their latest screed against the city's proposals to reform the land development code, specifically the recent Council-approved policy direction.

The PAC doesn't offer many solutions to the city's challenges around growth and affordability, but they confidently assert that proposed changes are bad and will instantly transform the city like the monster from Peaksville. Unfortunately, that is not how zoning works. CNC broadly misrepresents the challenge and the choices we as a city face. Phrases like "forcibly rezoned", "eat into Austin's neighborhoods", and "triggering a wave of displacement" are designed to evoke emotional responses ungrounded in reality. 

Here are some of the highlights:

"The city council wants to give City Hall’s staff the power to rezone other areas for high-density developments at their own discretion."

It is illegal under state law to do this... only City Council can approve a rezoning, not city staff.

"...worsening the gentrification and displacement crises that the residents of East Austin are already suffering"

Council specifically directed staff not to do this... on pg.5 "The granting of new entitlements in areas currently or susceptible to gentrification should be limited so as to reduce displacement" which primarily means East Austin. 

"If a home within a transition zone is torn down, its replacement must conform to the zoning change—and no development with fewer than four individual residential units may be built in its place."

This is a misread of the line on pg.12 "Four units within a house scale should be the least intense zone within a transition area." There are examples all over the city of smaller development on higher-zoned properties. Under the current code, McMansions can be found throughout Central Austin on multi-family zoning; we should take steps to dis-incentivize losing older housing stock if it's only going to be replaced by high-cost single units.

"They want to replace tens of thousands of Austin homes with newer, larger, more expensive multifamily buildings."

The council's policy direction leads with "The new code should prioritize all types of homes for all kinds of people in all parts of town (our Strategic Housing Blueprint goals) and a development pattern that supports 50/50 Transportation Mode share by 2039 (our Austin Strategic Mobility Plan)." and not a desire to replace tens of thousands of homes.  In fact, the document specifically proposes ideas that prioritize preservation (pg.8, "so [that] it is much easier to preserve an existing home than to tear down and replace it with another larger structure")

~~~~~

The reality is that our city faces displacement, gentrification, rising values/taxes, and generally disruptive development patterns now... under our current code. The real monster in the village is our current land development code that leads to many of these issues. Launching baseless attacks on any attempt to revise it only helps the monster and keeps us stuck in Peaksville and the Twilight Zone.

 

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