The $7.1 billion Project Connect plan will massively transform Austin over the next 13 years — ushering in a new era of transit with its train lines and bus hubs — and city officials want to make sure affordable and equitable housing is prioritized along transit corridors.
Austin City Council approved a resolution June 10 that, in a nutshell, asks the city to create an equitable transit oriented development, or eTOD, policy plan. This could lead to some land use code changes that developers have identified as critical for increasing housing supply close to public transit, though details of any future policy change are more than a year away.
The resolution, sponsored by Mayor Pro Team Natasha Harper-Madison, asks the city manager to participate in an eTOD study that Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is spearheading, along with any community engagement efforts. The city manager is also tasked to develop a citywide eTOD plan that addresses mounting issues like community displacement and affordable housing needs while boosting multimodal transportation.
Transit oriented development is defined by the city as a mix of land use and transit that creates walkable, mixed-use communities near transit stops. Adding an equitable lens to that definition means any future development in an eTOD area would be accessible to people of all income, race, gender, ability, immigration status and more.
A future eTOD policy is expected to lead to more dense development and make it easier for developers to contribute to the housing supply near future Project Connect stations without adding to affordability or displacement concerns.
Developers have identified parking requirements and compatibility standards as roadblocks to building housing near transit hubs. While drafting the policy, city staff has largely been asked to prioritize code changes that would boost density, including potentially eliminating parking requirements. That would also dis-incentivize the use of cars and encourage use of public transit. City staff could also set parking maximums.
Once the recommendations are set, Council will need to consider the plan before adding it to the land development code. Council expects city staff to bring recommendations back near the end of the year for early adoption, and it could be 14 months until a final policy plan is published.
Project Connect comprises a series of mass transit projects scheduled over the next several years in Austin, including more train lines and a downtown tunnel. Preliminary engineering, design and procurement work for the Orange and Blue light rail lines — which will connect far-reaching points of the city — will take about three or four years. Constructing and commissioning the lines will take another four or five years.
The Federal Transit Administration recently awarded CapMetro $900,000 to complete an eTOD study along the Blue Line and the northern segment of the Orange Line, which will connect the northern and southern portions of the city, plus extend out to the airport in Southeast Austin. Capital Metro completed a similar study last year for the Green Line, and it plans to apply for more grant money to do a similar study along other sections of the Project Connect rail system and Metro Rapid bus routes.
The studies will also guide how the $300 million in anti-displacement funds approved by voters last year could be spent. That money was earmarked to prioritize affordable housing and anti-displacement efforts during Project Connect’s 13-year timeline. The funds will come from tax revenue as part of the $7.1 billion transit plan.
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