CodeNEXT Marches On

City Council extends consultant contract, maintains timeline

In another daytime meeting – adjournment at 4:44pm – City Council worked quickly through a fairly limited agenda, with only two Items that raised much agita on the dais: the extension of CodeNEXT contract with consultant firm Opticos Design, and the approval of the Visit Austin 2018 marketing plan and budget.

The CodeNEXT extension has caused consternation both because of the cost – another $2.3 million, bringing the tab thus far to about $8.5 million in all – and because of general worry about the land use code rewrite process, and if it’s moving in the right direction. The dais remains divided, and several public witnesses opposed the extension. Some insisted that the process should be shelved altogether, a couple of others argued that while the current Draft 2 needs more work, that’s why it’s a draft that should be improved over the coming months.

An additional objection, raised first this week in Council’s Tuesday work session, is that the city’s minority- and women-owned business goals aren’t being met. Paul Saldaña of the Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin suggested that Council should pause and rethink the contract until it can meet its MBE/WBE goals. Frank Fuentes of the Hispanic Contractors Association responded that his organization is also unhappy with the minority hiring pattern, but said that nevertheless the CodeNEXT effort needs to push on if there is to be any hope of a more equitable land use code.

On the dais, there was similar division, with District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool and D10 CM Alison Alter arguing that the rewrite process is incomplete and still full of errors; D1 CM Ora Houston reiterated the objections that the MBE/WBE process is broken, and “at some point we need to say no.” Mayor Steve Adler and other Council members (Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Jimmy Flannigan) responded that revisions are to be expected at this stage, and Council (as well as the reviewing commissions) still have months to make changes.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who has expressed ongoing reservations about the process – especially the slow and inadequate procedures for getting specific revisions into the drafts – said that the day’s discussion appeared to moving in the right direction, including the assurances from staff responding to specific Council requests about tracking revisions and making corrections.

The vote to approve, of the contract extension and the additional funding, was 8-3, with Houston, Pool, and Alter dissenting.

The CodeNEXT discussion occupied most of the morning, with the post-lunch portion of the meeting sedate by comparison. An anticipated recurrence of the debate over the Visit Austin budget and marketing plan never materialized; apparently, interim meetings with Council members and a letter of commitment from Visit Austin of particular changes – including an invitation to a full audit by the City’s Auditor – seemed to have mollified most of the previous objections, and this time the vote to approve was unanimous.

In other actions:

More Saltillo, Please: Council extended the boundaries of the Plaza Saltillo Transit-Oriented Development to include a portion of the Chalmers Court development (a Housing Authority project), in order to expand the number of both market-rate and affordable units.

Dear Landlord: Council approved a settlement of the city’s dispute with the owners of the 200-unit Cross Creek Apartment complex on Rutland Drive. The city had sued the previous owners over unsafe and inadequate conditions – those conditions will be repaired, and the new owners have committed to continuing affordability and improvements.

Not So Fast: Council rejected a settlement with the owners of an apartment complex on 52nd St., for code violations and unsafe conditions, judging the proposed terms inadequate. Court case remains pending.

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City Council 2017, CodeNEXT

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