This is great news! There are so many great things happening around this city lately... the highrises that are planned, the push for downtown density, and now this. It's a good time to be in Austin
Subdivision cul-de-sacs, the theory goes, isolate neighbors and are tough for ambulances and garbage trucks to navigate. Dead ends and security gates enhance loneliness and clog nearby roads with traffic. And long, curvy streets force residents to drive cars instead of walk.
Now, Austin land planners are hatching a plan to create better subdivisions with shorter blocks and smaller, well-linked streets.A City Council subcommittee ruled in December that ideas for better subdivisions are needed, and Austin Planning Commission members will present a plan to the council later this year.The Planning Commission has tried reforming subdivisions a few times since 1998, but the idea died before the City Council because developers, urban planners and city staff members disagreed on whether to mandate rules or spur them through incentives. Making change optional, some planners argued, would plop one smartly designed subdivision next to a poorly designed one.
Developers say it's expensive to shorten blocks because they have to add side streets, gutters and utility lines, which drive up the housing prices they pass on to home buyers. Some developers also cringe at the idea of losing cul-de-sacs, which are thought to have a higher value because they draw less traffic.
Residential blocks are now an average of 1,200 feet; Sullivan would like to see a shorter maximum block length.Council Member Brewster McCracken said current city rules are arcane because they require wide streets for firetruck access and prevent developers from easily dividing land into smaller lots, and therefore smaller blocks.Of course the developers are going to throw a fit about it and point out any flaw they can find:Those extra, narrower streets could help slow drivers, McCracken said, while still being big enough for firetrucks and breaking up some of the traffic leading out to main highways.
Jim Knight of the Real Estate Council of Austin said the changes could actually discourage density, in conflict with Envision Central Texas, by forcing builders to cut up subdivisions with small streets instead of packing in extra homes.
Developers also have to build according to topography and can't always create a perfect street grid, Knight said."There's a renewed interest in making neighborhoods more permeable," like subdivisions of the old days where neighbors once walked and biked and interacted freely, said Chris Riley of the Planning Commission. "It's a very fundamental thing."