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Letter to council member - and "compromise"

One of the city council members wrote me back with a comment that they appreciated my letter but were going to vote for the ordinance on first reading anyways since it was a 'compromise'. I just sent the note below in response, but wanted to expand on the 'compromise' notion too.

A 'compromise' in this case would mean that I'd be giving up the right to develop some of my property, and in return, my neighbors would be giving up some of the right to develop their property, which would presumably benefit me (if I believed that they were likely to build McMansions and that those buildings would cause me some sort of harm).

The problem is that in my case, I already have a big duplex on one side (two stories, built to the minimum side setback line next to my backyard), and on the other side is my neighbors who would, like me, like to build a second story on their house.

So what have I obtained from this compromise? Compromise, by definition, isn't "I give something up, and you get the benefits". It's "we both give something up, and we both benefit". So what's the benefit for people like me - who already live in dense areas and would actually PREFER that their next door neighbors go ahead and build that second floor (since it's the only thing that could keep them in this neighborhood)?

The note I sent:

Thanks for the response.

I don't know that 'compromise' is the right word here. I didn't consent to negotiating away any of my minimal property rights in this case - so it's really more accurate to say that I'm being robbed of the ability to develop this property (which we paid a premium for at the time over other properties which could not be expanded according to SF3). A thief could rob you and only take half your money - but it's not a compromise.

The most likely outcome of this is that the family next door to us will decide to move out of town (can you blame them? A family of 5 in 1010 square feet is pretty cramped even by the standards of past generations) - at which point MY family has to decide what to do - stay as the only family left in a sea of deteriorating rental housing (since nobody's going to want to buy these things and fix them up) or move out of central Austin (which means leaving Austin entirely, since I would never live farther out than this).

I doubt that's the consequence the task force (or especially the city council) has in mind, but I honestly believe that's what's going to happen.

The only positive changes I could make to this are to prepare for the state to overturn these regulations in 5-10 years. If they wouldn't allow you to impose SOS on properties without grandfathering, there's no way these SF3 rules will stand, since SOS at least was in response to a clear and evident negative externality. If these regulations really addressed drainage instead of merely using it as a convenient launching point, the city would be in a SOS-like position; but as it stands you're on even shakier legal ground.

But again, that'll take years to resolve. Unfortunately, I can't see my neighbors sticking around with a family of 5 in 1010 square feet for that long.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad


What's the variance process for the proposed ordinance? Seems to me like you'd be a prime candidate.

While I like the new rules since they'd keep my potential future neighbors (my current ones are ok) from messing up my privacy and back-yard aesthetics, it seems like their should be relief-valves in place for locations where the horse is already out of the stable.


The Task Force wants a board of 9 - with 4 neighborhood representatives, which, as the dissenting Task Force member pointed out, makes it just another Board of Adjustment where neighborhood associations hold way too much sway.

Frankly, I don't think I ought to have to go through the time and expense of a variance to build up on existing footprint essentially what most other lots in the neighborhood already have (second (or even third) dwelling unit + second floor).

Is anyone currently on deck to initiate litigation against this thing once it passes?

Seems like one "compromise" could be to apply the new rules to newly purchased property, but grandfather in existing ones. This way current property owners have the opportunity to use their property under the terms when they purchased it and potential new property owners could consider the impact of the ordinance before they made a purchasing decision.