The Proposal For Secondary Dwelling Units On Small Lots: A Report From The Contact Team Meeting

On April 28, The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team (HPNPCT) held an open forum for neighbors to consider an amendment to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan that would allow secondary dwelling units on residential lots of 5750 sq. ft. or more. For most of Hyde Park today, the minimum lot size for a secondary dwelling unit is 7000 sq. ft.

The HPNPCT is a group of individuals designated to be the stewards or advocates of their adopted neighborhood plan. They work with city staff towards the implementation of their recommendations, review and initiate plan amendments, serve as community points of contact, and work on behalf of other neighborhood stakeholders. A contact team is different from a neighborhood association. The latter generally takes on a wider range of neighborhood issues, while the former focuses on implementing the neighborhood plan.

The recent meeting was the first step in determining whether stakeholders in Hyde Park support the idea of allowing secondary dwelling units (SDUs) on lots smaller than now allowed, and the issues that might stand in the way of this being adopted by neighbors. After introductory remarks from Pete Gilcrease, Contact Team chair, there were presentations and remarks from Michael Gatto, Larry Gilg, and Bill Spelman. Time was then allotted for questions and expressions of concern from among the 75 attendees.

Michael Gatto, an architect with the Austin Community Design and Development Center, is a principal in the Alley Flats Initiative (AFI) in Austin, a collaborative project of The Austin Community Design and Development Center, The University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development, and The Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation. The long-term objective of the Alley Flat Initiative is to create an adaptive and self-perpetuating delivery system for sustainable and affordable housing in Austin. The “delivery system” would include not only efficient housing designs constructed with sustainable technologies, but also innovative methods of financing and home ownership that benefit all neighborhoods in Austin.

Michael presented information on several housing types built as secondary dwelling units in the past several years and discussed issues with site development regulations, funding models and demographics that illustrate how affordable housing units in Austin have been forced to the margins of the city since 1998. Michael’s presentation can be downloaded from the Contact Team Yahoo group.

This was followed by my presentation on the specific proposal up for discussion at the meeting, with some preliminary data on the number of lots and population of Hyde Park. This presentation in also online on the website cited just above.

The number of new residents that this proposal will realistically bring to the neighborhood is about the same as the population decline in Hyde Park from 2000 to 2010. Developed by Hyde Park Residents, the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD) is an overlay to the city’s zoning code that provides specific land use regulations for Hyde Park. The NCCDs currently allow SDUs on lots as small at 5900 sq. ft. in certain areas of the neighborhood. This proposal would require an amendment to the NCCDs to allow SDUs on all lots greater than 5750 sq. ft. Among the reasons for making this proposal are the following:

• Create new housing units while respecting the look and scale of the single-family neighborhood
• Make more efficient, low impact and sustainable use of land and infrastructure
• Provide a mix of housing that responds to changing family needs and smaller households
• Serve as a means for residents, particularly seniors, single parents, and families with grown children, to remain in their homes and maintain connections to the security, companionship and resources that they have developed in the neighborhood
• Provide a means for adult children to give care and support to a parent in a semi-independent living arrangement
• Help ensure that Hyde Park remains a walkable community, with neighborhood businesses, churches, public services and civic organizations that can rely on neighbors’ patronage for their viability.

City of Austin Councilmember Bill Spelman was the final presenter and reinforced some of the statistics that were presented earlier about the growth of Austin and the resulting housing needs. He emphasized the necessity for getting input from a broad group of stakeholders and to make sure we work to address concerns that arise.

Following these comments, we opened the floor to questions and concerns. Among the concerns raised at the meeting were:

• Fear that developers will demo existing homes and build a “stealth dorm” on the site
• The property tax increase on residential lots with the addition of an SDU is too high to make the finances work
• It not clear that this addresses the affordable housing issue
• Traffic and parking in Hyde Park will get worse
• The number of new units that could be built is nowhere near the number needed
• The city should focus on more housing options in transit-oriented developments with much higher density along corridors outside the neighborhood
• UT should provide housing for its students
• Previous attempts to work with UT have not produced good outcomes.

The Contact Team plans to follow up with a questionnaire for those who attended the meeting to determine the level of support for the proposal, and to make sure concerns are noted and addressed. An expanded questionnaire will be posted on SurveyMonkey from June 15 to July 15. Please let me know if I’ve missed something in this report.

Editor’s Note: For a related article, see “Infill in Hyde Park”.