During the final Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) reading, Council Members Ora Houston (D-1), Ann Kitchen (D-5), and Leslie Pool (D-7), led by Kathie Tovo (D-9), cited impervious cover and the supposed resultant flooding as demonstrative reasons why we should not add housing in Austin’s urban core. The same argument has been used by neighborhood NIMBYs to decry new downtown residences.
ADUs do add impervious cover, to be sure, but in exchange they provide places for Austinites to call home. Furthermore, thanks to the new ordinance which passed 7-4 on November 19, ADUs built within a quarter mile of an Imagine Austin corridor are not required to have a parking space—a minimum I.C. savings of 289 square feet over the previous requirement! As for new downtown residences, well, if they were surface parking lots prior to their construction, then they are not to blame for increased impervious cover.
If we refuse to provide adequate housing in the city, then developers will provide housing outside the city limits. While certain Council Members try to be environmentally pennywise by voting against ADUs, they end up pound foolish by inadvertently encouraging suburban sprawl.
As Austin grows, we should avoid (quite literally) driving our development through virginal Hill Country, which results in car dependence, a barren landscape, and endless pavement. We should, however, support incremental density—that is, gradual urban infill—which affords our city architectural variety, historic layers, and yes, character.
Just for fun—or, you know, not—let us take a look at eight sprawling retail and office developments and see how their vastness compares with the boundary of downtown Austin:
- Lakeline Mall: “In 1990 the discovery of endangered cave bugs – found on what was then raw, undeveloped land – delayed construction of Lakeline Mall.”
- La Frontera: The portion of the land where La Frontera now sits was the site of the primary filming of the 1974 cult movie classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a “story… about isolation, the woods, the darkness, and the unknown.”
- Tech Ridge: “Retail centers and restaurants are numerous in the area in response to 45Toll and 130Toll construction and a number of recent subdivisions that were built in recent years.”
- The “Arboretum” & Gateway: “Arboretum Plaza I offers 146,030 square feet of rentable space on nine floors. Parking is at a ratio of one vehicle per 300 square feet of leased space. Arboretum Plaza II, with 97,944 square feet of leasable space, has a denser parking ratio of one per 278 square feet. Arboretum Plaza II comprises six stories.”
[486 parking spaces + 352 parking spaces = 838 parking spaces]
- Southpark Meadows: “…over 90 stores including big box national retailers, fabulous restaurants and loads of parking…”
- Barton Creek Square: “‘Within hours [of the beginning of construction on Barton Creek Watershed] … the water emerging from the springs turned dark and silty.'”
- Austin-Bergstrom International Airport PARKING: “…13,000 parking spaces… [including] surface lots, garages, and spaces in the four overflow lots.”
[13,000 parking spaces = 26.4 city blocks]
- Dell Campus: “Dell Computer Corporation occupies approximately 2.3 million square feet of manufacturing, distribution and office facilities…”
Note: The Domain was excluded from this listicle because it contains a substantial residential component.