Councilmember Chris Riley has taken the time to provide some thoughtful responses to questions asked of all District 4 and 9 candidates by the Northfield Neighborhood Association. Please read his responses below:
NNA: The city council lowered occupancy limits in an attempt to reduce the proliferation of so-called Stealth Dorms, but this reduction in occupancy limits will only be in place for 2 years. What would be your commitment to following through on that initiative to ensure the preservation of single-family homes into the future?
Riley: I helped lead the lowering of occupancy limits to stem the demolition of single-family homes in Northfield and other neighborhoods in the area. At all times, I have emphasized the need to keep working to address the underlying problem: the lack of housing options for students and others seeking to live affordably near the UT campus. If we’re not able to fully address that problem by the time two years have passed, I expect we’ll need to extend the occupancy limits. I’m fully committed to ensuring that Northfield retains its stock of single-family homes into the future.
NNA: Austin housing prices have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, raising concerns about both affordability and property taxes. What efforts will you take as a city leader to improve housing opportunities in central Austin for people from economically diverse backgrounds. And what will you do to keep increasing property taxes from driving people out of their homes?
Riley: I plan to keep working to provide a wide range of housing options in central Austin. I have sponsored resolutions aimed at supporting accessory dwelling units, micro-units, and tiny homes, all of which would tend to be more affordable than standard single-family homes. Accessory dwelling units have also proven helpful to many homeowners who have been able to generate a revenue stream to offset their property taxes.
A stronger supply of housing options would tend to keep appraisal increases in check. And we always need to strive to keep the property tax rate low. I also support doing what we can to keep all household expenses low, from transportation costs to utility bills. Making good use of all city property, including property held by the utilities, can be an important part of reducing the pressure on taxpayers and utility ratepayers
NNA: The City of Austin started a process to improve Airport Boulevard, but there has been no progress in recent years. What would be your commitment to continuing that process?
Riley: As the lead sponsor of the Airport Boulevard initiative, I’m fully committed to continuing the process. The Airport Boulevard Advisory Group has done great work, and the recommendations resulting from that process are currently being reviewed by the consultant team working on the overhaul of our Land Development Code.
The initiation of the Airport Boulevard project was based in part on the community’s interest in seeing how a form-based code could work in practice. The community still has that interest, and the need to get moving on a form-based code is more urgent than ever. I have been following up with the Opticos Team to make sure they’re prioritizing Airport Boulevard as an opportunity to demonstrate an effective form-based code as soon as possible.
I have also been working to promote the goals of the Airport Boulevard project through the ongoing redevelopment of Highland Mall and the 81-acre site on which it sits. In June I sponsored a resolution supporting a partnership with Austin Community College to foster an exemplary redevelopment effort, and I convened a meeting of City and ACC officials to discuss that partnership. The resolution also calls for further work regarding both the Highland Mall site and the Airport Boulevard Corridor. I look forward to getting a report on that work by the end of this year, and taking the next steps toward the improvements that have long been envisioned for this corridor.
NNA: What are the most important improvements and initiatives that you feel would benefit constituents in the Northfield Neighborhood?
Riley: Here’s my list of 10 improvements and initiatives that would benefit constituents in Northfield:
1. The 2002 North Loop Neighborhood Plan sets out a great vision of a “vibrant, friendly and livable” neighborhood. The goals of the plan should be carried forward through the rewrite of the Land Development Code, and should be revisited periodically to make sure we’re staying on track.
2. The Airport Blvd project offers the possibility of fulfilling a longtime neighborhood vision of transforming this corridor into a walkable, mixed-use boulevard full of great local businesses.
3. Capital improvements on Airport are recommended in the neighborhood plan, and have been planned in some detail in the Airport Boulevard project. Funding for these improvements should be included in the next bond election. In the meantime, I have been working with staff to identify alternative funding sources, and I’m hopeful that significant funding will be available soon.
4. A better sidewalk network would make the neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly. A prioritized list of sidewalk needs is set out in Action 1.6 of the neighborhood plan.
5. Better bicycle facilities are needed in a number of places, including Airport Boulevard and 51 Street.
6. The parkland dedication ordinance needs to be updated so that future multifamily development in the area generates more than $650/unit for parks in the neighborhood.
7. Northfield should have public spaces it can be proud of. The neighborhood plan envisions “attractive, pedestrian friendly public spaces in the neighborhood that foster public gathering,” such as pocket parks and plazas.
8. The redevelopment of the Highland Mall site, including Highland Mall itself, should provide great nearby amenities for Northfield, including walkable streets, great shops and restaurants, and inviting green spaces.
9. Better high-capacity transit, with more direct access to UT and Downtown, would be a great improvement for Northfield. The proposition on the ballot in November would be one positive way of addressing that; and if this proposition fails, we’ll need to regroup and find another way to address this need.
10. The rewrite of the Land Development Code offers opportunities for ensuring more positive redevelopment, and could be especially helpful for providing “missing middle” housing options that could buffer single-family areas from more intensely developed places like Airport Boulevard.