The most contentious Austin zoning battles relate to development close to Ladybird Lake. The prime downtown lake is considered one of the city’s most important natural assets. As a result, the City has been closely examining proposals to protect the lake from future development. Essentially, the City Council would like to limit the height of development on sites directly adjacent to the lake.
Essentially, the City has two goals: first, to control development around the lake. Second, to ensure access to the lake. The appropriate policy action becomes complicated with an important hypothetical: where there are gaps in the hike and bike trail, should the city provide height variances in exchange for trail extension or improved public access to the lake? It’s this very real example that been the focus of City Council debate.
Last night, after much discussion, the Council gave the second of three required approvals that limit building heights around the lake to either 60 or 96 feet depending on location. To address the above example the council decided that developers could be allowed to exceed 96 feet “if they can prove doing so would be substantially better for the community.” This is a fair compromise that will provide the City with the appropriate zoning tools to protect the lake in the future.