Austin environmental leaders call for bold change in CodeNEXT to stop sprawl and protect the environment

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Environment Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS — A group of prominent local environmental advocates is calling upon Austin’s leaders to adopt a CodeNEXT that promotes the compact and connected development necessary to stop sprawl, reduce car-dependency and protect Austin’s environment as the city continues to grow.

“Austin’s current Land Development Code actively encourages low-density, sprawling development that consumes more energy, water and land than compact urban development, while also generating more greenhouse gas emissions,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “There is no environmental case to be made for sprawl.”

Representatives of Environment Texas, Clean Water Action, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and other environmental leaders will gather on Monday to release a new report highlighting the damaging environmental effects of low-density, suburban development as well as the environmental benefits of a CodeNEXT that emphasizes compact and connected development.

The group is calling on city leaders to adopt a new code that increases neighborhood walkability, provides “missing middle” housing (a wide range of residential forms between single-family homes and high-rise apartment buildings), and reduces the considerable environmental damage caused by sprawl.

“Focusing new growth in compact, walkable neighborhoods can address many of Austin’s growing pains,” said David Foster, Director of the Texas office of Clean Water Action. “Done right, this type of development can benefit the environment while also providing more of the housing options our community badly needs and allowing Austinites to spend more time with their families and less time stuck in traffic.”

The Environment Texas Research and Policy Center, Frontier Group and TexPIRG Education Fund report, “Growing Greener: The Environmental Benefits of a Compact and Connected Austin” details the many ways in which compact development can deliver tangible benefits for the environment – reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, curbing the flow of polluted runoff into streams and lakes, and protecting natural areas and agricultural lands.

“Research from across Texas and the United States points to the clear environmental benefits of well-designed compact development,” said Katherine Eshel of Frontier Group. “This report shows evidence-based approaches Austin can use to build a greener, more sustainable city for the 21st century.”

“For too long, ordinances and other regulations in Austin have restricted appropriate, dense development in the urban core only to push that growth out to the city’s fringes,” said George Cofer, a longtime advocate for protection of the Hill Country. “This mismanagement of our growth and resources has resulted in a far greater loss of open space, while increasing our car dependency and carbon emissions. It’s time for bold change.”

The Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources has found that between 1997 and 2012, Texas lost more than 1.1 million acres of farms, ranches and forests primarily due to urban and suburban development.

“If we’re going to stop global warming, we need to transform our cities away from dependence on cars,” said Analiese Kornely, board member of Austin Sierra Club. “The science is clear. If Austin is serious about cutting greenhouse gases, we need to provide more housing in the urban core that allows greater options for walking, biking and transit.”

The group noted that the current draft of CodeNext represents an improvement for the environment over the status quo. For example, modeling by the Watershed Protection Department has found allowable impervious cover will decrease by 0.57% over the current code while allowing 75,805 more housing units than the existing zoning. In addition, CodeNext includes new requirements for use of green infrastructure such as green roofs or rain gardens in new and redeveloped properties.

However, the group urged the Austin City Council to make further improvements to reduce car dependency, encourage the use of mass transit, reduce impervious cover and preserve open space by:

  • Shrinking or eliminating parking requirements that encourage single-occupant car trips.
  • Increase the amount of housing and jobs allowed along and near the major transit corridors identified in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.
  • Encourage more housing, more housing types and more efficient use of land throughout the urban core.