:FAN: Carport Exemption

#1

On the June 28 Planning Commission agenda they will hear an item to remove the 450 sf FAR exemption for attached carports. If this exemption is removed, then this will effectively be eating into how much housing can be built and that housing will be used to house cars instead. People will be required to include carports into their calculations and won’t be able to build other housing like ADUs.

Since it looks like we are voting on other issues tomorrow, if anyone wants to discuss this as a possible resolution to be voted on or want to create resolution language, I think there’s still time to work it out before then. It would probably be our only opportunity to weigh in on this before the Planning Commission meeting.

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Time to weigh in on The Grove?
#2

I have observed this issue in a slightly different way. Developers have built homes that maximize square footage on a lot and then build a garage that has two open walls so they call it a carport. People buy the home and natrually want to add a garage door for security. Next thing you know, nosey nieghbors are in an uproar. If someone buys a proptery, I dont think anyone should be able to tell them they can or cannot enclose a carport. With that said, if builders did not have the exception, the house price would be less (less sq ft) and this car port issue would go away. I am not trying to advovate one way or another but it seems the current ordance is not ideal.

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#3

Resolution suggestion below, but read the background info first if you find it helpful.

An agenda item to remove the 450sf carport exemption from FAR calculations goes to Planning Commission June 28. This is fairly soon.

This came up last year when someone in Zilker put a garage door on their home’s carport to keep their kids’ bicycles safe, and instantly busted FAR because of the complicated way things are calculated. This unleashed the gates of HELL…

Our code is riddled with contradictions. It requires off-street parking, but if you connect it to the house your habitable space is penalized for it. Unless it is a carport, and doesn’t have habitable space above… There is a long list of complicated exemptions like this ,but essentially with this one, the carport doesn’t count against your habitable space allowance. The idea originally was that a carport doesn’t add to the “mass” of a home. However, it is obviously flawed, confusing, and not intuitive to homeowners that want to install garage doors.

I’ve heard from staff that this kind of complexity is very difficult to review as well, sometimes things count and sometimes things don’t count. The permit application is a ridiculously complicated numbers chart. It makes it difficult to train new staff with some many ins and outs. This adds time to project duration, and expense to permit review, which serves to add costs to housing.

So it does need to be fixed, however simply removing the 450sf exemption would make carports count towards your total allowable square footage, making car space compete with people space. This cuts into the total square footage you have to work with and that ripples over into the design of affordable ADUs. Remember the total allowable square footage is fixed as a percentage of the lot, so both the house and ADU are drawing square footage from the same limited amount of allowable habitable space. A flawed carport fix could take precious 450sf out of the total habitable square footage you have to work with. Now that we have ADUs as a viable secondary unit on 5,750sf lots, and they are gaining in popularity as a housing model, this is a dangerous time to limit square footage with certain designs.

Last time this was at Planning Commission, Chair Oliver said something incredibly sensible like “Why don’t we just increase FAR and get rid of all the exemptions?” I think FAN’s resolution should play on that. Possibly also just come out and call for no minimum off-street parking requirements while we’re on this topic.

So here goes:

"FAN, in an effort to place importance on people over cars, calls for an increased F.A.R. limit of .48 or 2,760sf whichever is greater and to remove the parking exemptions section from Subchapter F known as the “McMansion Ordinance”.

If we wanted to get bold we could add this:

“Furthermore, FAN calls for the elimination of minimum off-street parking requirements in an effort to let the market explore the feasibility of more urban housing options without parking structures and extra impervious cover.”

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#4

I would be in support of the full “bold” resolution, but perhaps we could modify it a bit, to make it a little more politically feasible? Perhaps we could say the “reduction or elimination of off-street parking requirements for all new housing within a half a mile of Imagine Austin activity centers and corridors”

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#5

Evan you may be right about that approach. Could also be the fall back if that means anything strategically.

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#6

PS. That 2,760 number is essentially the 2,300 minimum that exists today plus the 450sf carport exemption (round numbers made it 2760 if you multiply .48 times 5,750sf). This is not really a net increase in square footage because there will no longer be parking exemptions. The parking structure always comes out of that allowable total moving forward. The only way anyone ever gets increased habitable square footage from what is allowed today, is if they forgoe a parking structure which could be an interesting movement…Again, that total number is also what the house and ADU have to share between them including any parking structure.

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#7

So with Evan’s edit the resolution would be the following. @cevangill would removing “new” when describing the housing type be helpful? I was thinking what if someone wanted to build an addition onto their home. It wouldn’t be new housing really, but still shouldn’t be required to add parking if within that area.

@david The only downside that I could possibly see, which might not be a concern, would be this would allow people to build slightly larger houses than they can now and put their parking on the street. Is that anything to be concerned about? Would there be any mechanism to encourage the extra housing to be in a second unit instead or is that getting needlessly complicated again and people should simply have the choice of what they want to build? After all, limiting choice in housing of any type has negatives.

"FAN, in an effort to place importance on people over cars, calls for an increased F.A.R. limit of .48 or 2,760sf whichever is greater and to remove the parking exemptions section from Subchapter F known as the "McMansion Ordinance.

Furthermore, FAN calls for the reduction or elimination of off-street parking requirements for all housing within a half a mile of Imagine Austin activity centers and corridors."

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#8

Well, they can currently put their parking on their lot, just not covered and build the same size house. Ok, I think I understand everything now and there wouldn’t be any downside. =)

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#9

Yes, someone might choose habitable space over parking space, but the actual size of the house would remain the same either way. Remember we are moving into house/adu territory these days so we aren’t just talking about one big house anymore.

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#10

You guys clearly have a lot of experience in this. My personal opinion, for what that is worth, is that I would not support a change that allowed for no parking requirement on a given property. No question that a developer will build as much living SQ/FT as possible to maximize selling price (not a critisims, just an econimic reality). If we remove parking requirments, new construction will all be street parking. I am OK with ADUs not requiring addition parking but properties as a whole should have some parking requirement. The reality is that we are car dependend in Austin (another issue) and the neighborhood streets are already over run with street parking. We also have limited sidewalks (another issue) so its not condusive to lots of cars parked on the streets. Hopefully there is a balance there. Thanks.

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#11
  1. Parking requirements in general are a bad idea - especially for residences. So I do not buy into Brian’s position at all; I vigorously oppose it. With or without sidewalks, we are better off with cars being parked on the street than we are with mandatory driveways.

  2. This whole discussion is falling into the trap set by the ANC and their ilk. Why not just cut through the clutter and simply call for the complete repeal of the McMansion Ordinance? Use the items in this discussion as EXAMPLES of why it’s a disaster of a Rube Goldberg Machine rather than trying to add another section onto the machine in order to somehow make it work better?

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#12

I understand the concern about more cars on the street, but I think the data shows that it’s overall safer to have those cars on the street for traffic calming, etc. I think we also have to decide if we want to house cars or house people and in a housing shortage I think we should be housing people instead of cars. People can always decide to add a parking space onto their lot to put their cars in if they don’t want to park on the street, if that’s important to them. I think having no parking requirements within a half a mile of Imagine Austin activity centers and corridors and reduced parking outside of that will encourage better transit options also.

Ultimately we should probably be advocating for getting rid of the McMansion Ordinance and maybe that’ll be possible in the future, but for right now the only thing that seems like it might be possible with the current situation is moving in that direction, which I think this does.

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#13

@Pete_Gilcrease, I’'m with you on the intent here - but as FYI - you can’t always decide to add a parking space onto your lot. Someone in our neighborhood bought a house, pulled a permit for something, got inspected and were found to exceed their impervious cover limit - so they had to tear out their driveway and put grass down in it’s place - from the curb to the garage, which is behind the house. Any place that water can not drain into the soil is apparently considered impervious cover.

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#14

@Phil_Wiley I guess in this case they wouldn’t be required to put a parking space in, but if they wanted to and they had the room for it, they could. They just wouldn’t be forced by default to do it. I think almost everyone has a horror story with how our current land development code is currently setup and this could simplify things to where hopefully there would be just a few less of those horror stories. =)

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#15

@david Do you want to keep your proposed resolution as is? I other forums, people are discussing alternate measures that would do away with floor-area ratio limits entirely, or raise them higher than you’ve proposed here.

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#16

Ha love the Dahmus comments and agree Subchapter F needs to go away eventually. But it won’t for now.

I’m sensitive to the parking concerns, but I’m not sure builders will automatically eliminate off-street parking for central Austin property that will still cost good money. Buyers expect that. Limited to 1/2 mile could be interesting though and could be part of a shift.

Mostly this is an opportunity for some clean up of the code at the very least. I understand other groups are talking about eliminating FAR entirely. There will probably be yet even more variations.

I think my suggestion will probably remain the same though, but I am reconsidering the exact numbers. Larger FAR might be warranted. So I’m cleaning it up like this in the first section below. I think the second section is probably a long term goal and wouldn’t need to happen now. I just think it would be fun to throw in while PC is hearing a housing issue that revolves around square footage and parking.

"FAN, in an effort to place importance on people over cars, calls for an increased F.A.R. limit in concert with an increased fixed minimum square footage as determined sufficient to remove the complicated parking exemptions section from Subchapter F known as the “McMansion Ordinance”. This will benefit the review process, review staff, and ultimately reduce entitlements related costs that end up in the price of a home.

Furthermore, FAN calls for the reduction or elimination of off-street parking requirements for all housing within a half a mile of Imagine Austin activity centers and corridors."

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#17

It seems the off-street parking clause merits a separate resolution.

However, FAN previously voted to send (and did send) this letter to City Council:

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods (FAN) supports allowing metered parking spaces to count toward the minimum off-street parking required for non-residential uses. Allowing available metered parking to be used for business parking would encourage and support walkable neighborhood amenities, encourage more neighborhood public transportation options, and reduce the amount of impervious cover in our neighborhoods to promote green space and help prevent flooding.

Things are getting to be confusing. To the extent the carport exemption issue is time sensitive, I recommend a much simpler resolution that directly targets it. Otherwise, I recommend giving this discussion - and the potential several resolutions that could come out of it - significantly more time.

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#18

@rcauvin Would removing the second paragraph be sufficient? Or would you be in favor of passing a resolution that says something like:

FAN does not support removing the car port exemption from FAR calculations. In an effort to place the importance on people over cars, FAR should be increased equivalent to the current parking exemptions in order to remove the complicated parking exemptions section from Subchapter F known as the “McMansion Ordinance.” This will benefit the review process, review staff, and ultimately reduce entitlements related costs that end up in the price of a home.

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#19

That formulation does seem simpler and more straightforward. However, aren’t the first two sentences bordering on contradictory? We don’t support removing the car port exemption, but we actually do along with a compensatory increase in FAR?

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#20

I guess that does look strange.

FAN, in an effort to place importance on people over cars, calls for an increase in FAR equivalent to the current parking exemptions in order to remove the complicated parking exemptions section from Subchapter F known as the “McMansion Ordinance.” This will benefit the review process, review staff, and ultimately reduce entitlements related costs that end up in the price of a home.

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