When the CodeNEXT process began, the Austin City Council asked the CodeNEXT team to create a code that combined zones based on how the property is used, like residential or commercial (known as use-based zones), with zones based on the structures’ size and shape, like building shape and height and McMansion requirements (known as form-based zones). Draft 1 used this approach, but people expressed concerns that it seemed as if we were getting two codes. Draft 2 will take a new approach focused on a standardized spectrum of zones.
In Draft 2, residential zones will be labeled with an “R” prefix and be followed by a number. That number will indicate the standard number of residential units allowed by right on a property with that zoning designation from R1-R3. So “R1” means one residential unit is standard for the property; “R2” means two units are the standard; and “R3” means three units are standard. In "R4" zones, four units can be built with an incentive bonus system.
A similar approach applies to “RM" zones, which stands for residential multiple units. In these zones, the number indicates the intensity of development that can be achieved, rather than the number of units. For example, the permitted amount of units per acre or height may increase from RM1 to RM2 and from RM2 to RM3.
The zoning structure being developed for Draft 2 also improves upon our existing code – one of the main reasons Imagine Austin called for a new land development code.
For example, Austin's current zoning system includes "SF" (single family) zones, which implies that only single-family homes are allowed on a property. But most “SF” zones actually allow more than one unit, and allow uses other than residential. Also, the numbers at the end of the existing SF zones (SF-1, SF-2, SF-3, etc.) are not tied to the number of actual units allowed. For instance, today's SF-3 zone allows up to two units, and properties with SF-6 zoning can have up to 12 units*.
The more consistent spectrum of zones in Draft 2 should make easier for everyone to understand what you are allowed to do on your property, and to compare what is allowed in different zones throughout the city – something the current, 30-year-old code doesn’t offer.
Also, the standardized spectrum of zones in Draft 2 still maintains the form controls we developed in Draft 1. Form controls help give areas with a consistent “look and feel” the tools they need to ensure future development fits within the context of a place. These controls are used in areas with a consistent pattern of development, which includes connectivity, uniform building types, and how properties relate to each other. For example, in a neighborhood that mostly consists of small homes, a zone’s form controls would include size and scale restrictions to encourage new homes to fit with the small-homes pattern that currently exists, instead of imposing the same size and shape restrictions in every neighborhood in Austin.
In short: Draft 2 will make what you can do on a property much clearer, and it will include the tools that help preserve the character of our neighborhoods, while allowing us to plan for the compact and connected Austin that Imagine Austin calls for.
*A previous version of this post contained the incorrect number of maximum units allowed in an SF-6 zone. It has been corrected.