First passed in 1985, Austin’s Parkland Dedication Ordinance has required new residential developments to dedicate a percentage of land for park use, pay a fee in lieu of an on-site park space, or both — and as the city’s growth continued beyond the wildest expectations of the 1980s, the ordinance saw its last update in 2016, which added a parkland requirement for hotel projects among other tweaks. In a city defined by real estate — its development, its recent scarcity, the often counterproductive sense of local resistance to its existence — the PLD ordinance is generally considered an agreeable compromise between the city’s unavoidable expansion and the character-defining green spaces that attract newcomers to Austin in the first place.
According to the Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the planning and use of dedicated land and funds for new and expanded parks, Austin’s system has grown by 200 acres across 51 new or expanded parks since November 2018 — and those new spaces were funded by a combination of parkland dedication fees and the $45 million parkland bond passed in 2018. Even with the start of the pandemic last year slowing down some new projects, parkland fees captured through the ordinance reached an all-time high of $14.37 million during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, up from nearly $13.5 million in 2019-2020:
PARD’s planners use a variety of criteria to locate where the best investments can be made to further the city’s goals and best serve our residents. The analysis begins by looking for areas with high population density, especially those with a concentration of prioritized communities, such as communities of color, lower income residents, and children. Planners look for creek corridors and gaps in greenbelts – which have been the bedrock of Austin’s parks system for generations. Then, they look for areas that lack parks within walking distance of growing communities.
Looking ahead, PARD anticipates major upcoming acquisitions for greenbelt connections and neighborhood parks for prioritized communities. Altogether, targeted future acquisitions amount to an estimated $43 million. About $29 million will come from the 2018 bond, with the remaining $14 million paid using funded through parkland dedication fees in-lieu.
Though these numbers show bond funding remains the single most effective source for land acquisition, parkland dedication provides interesting possibilities for developers that choose to fulfill the on-site park requirement rather than pay a fee for parkland purchases by the city elsewhere. Parks built on-site at new residential developments are an opportunity for accessible placemaking, with these facilities directly adjacent to a population of neighbors that will inevitably enjoy them more due to their easily walkable location.
Among the crowd of new parks funded since 2018, the best example of on-site parkland dedication is absolutely the pocket park included at the 10-acre Saltillo development by Endeavor Real Estate, a plaza and open lawn space built in partnership with the city inside the transit-oriented Plaza Saltillo District and featuring an at-grade crossing of the MetroRail Red Line. It’s immediately one of the best new public spaces on this side of East Austin, and one of the more pleasant rail crossings in the city — though hopefully not the last.
The leisurely 14-minute video above and the StoryMap presentation by PARD embedded below provide a fascinating deep-dive into the parkland dedication process and its results over the last few years, and it’s absolutely worth a look if you care about this sort of thing — and you should, since the ability of Austin’s growth to provide these positive side effects are so rarely discussed: