CodeNEXT Fun With Levers and Indicators

Planning Commission learn how priorities affect mapping

The Planning Commission’s Mapping Work Group has created a new city planning tool.

During last night’s special called meeting, the group, along with CodeNEXT mapping consultants Frego­nese Associates, presented a series of “lever” maps – mapping experiments designed to test different priorities from Imagine Austin, the city’s comprehensive 30-year plan. In theory, this experiment will help commissioners better understand the CodeNEXT map and aid them in drafting their recommendations for City Council. The lever maps, which John Frego­nese described as “kind of crude,” are not intended to replace any existing or as-yet-introduced CodeNEXT maps. Instead, as Commissioner Trinity White explained, they’ll hopefully provide commissioners with a sort of “cheat sheet” to have a more “nuanced” mapping conversation.

The idea for these test scenarios stems back to last fall, when PC Chair Stephen Oliver asked for an Equivalency Map in order to compare what the Austin zoning map looks like today to that which was previewed when draft two of the land use rewrite was released in September. On its own, the map was “too broad,” said White, to provide quality feedback. The group formed soon after with Frego­nese and company to create the equivalency map, which evolved into more detailed scenario maps (of which White said there were three). But even those lacked the detailed information needed to fully digest what was happening. Dialing in further led the group to what they’re calling “priority levers.” White describes these levers as “individual strategies that inform the mapping process.”

To give an example, under CodeNEXT, accessory dwelling units will be allowed on more housing lots. To test how Austin’s housing stock would benefit from more ADUs, the working group mapped ADUs onto every residential property within the city. This was one of nearly two dozen priorities tested by the group and one that generated a lot of interest. Other priorities included replacing commercial-only zones with mixed use (which created a capacity of 46,324 housing units), adding greater density to both Imagine Austin corridors and city centers and increasing density around Austin Independent School District schools.

The most beneficial takeaway from these experiments was the visualization of where and how different scenarios would affect the city. One priority tested looked at what would happen if single-family homes were redeveloped into missing middle housing (defined as R3-R4 zones by Fregonese). The test lit up only one small area of Austin, visualizing how some zoning changes could greatly impact existing neighborhoods. It’s examples like these that recently resigned Planning Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza was excited to see. In a statement Oliver read last night, Zaragoza wrote that she believes these scenarios will be “helpful in bringing objectivity to emotionally charged topics,” and allow commissioners to make “much more informed decisions.” White echoed this sentiment, calling the lever tests “eye opening.”

Wednesday night’s presentation looked at scenarios only related to housing units, but Oliver and White assured commissioners that other Imagine Austin criteria will be tested. Indicators to be looked at in the near future include transportation, equity, and, at Commissioner Patricia Seeger’s request, housing proximity to parkland.

Like the Zoning and Platting Commission on Tuesday night, Planning commissioners were asked by city staffer Jerry Rusthoven to co-host a still-unscheduled public hearing to be led by the two land use commissions. In doing so, Rusthoven shared ZAP’s requests with PC, who agreed to two (or possibly more) days for the hearings split evenly among both LUCs. PC was open to the suggestion of scheduling hearings in different areas of town, with weekday and weekend options. What happens next lies in the hands of city staff and the two land use commission chairs, Oliver and Jolene Kiolbassa.

As the meeting concluded, commissioners thanked Frego­nese and his team for their work, but Frego­nese countered that scenarios were a product of the mapping group. “We were following them down this path, and hats off to [them],” he said. Going forward, he said his firm will continue to use lever maps in other cities. Oliver closed with a promise to continue the lever conversation after Monday’s release of CodeNEXT draft three. “This is not the end of the conversation, more the beginning,” he said.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

CodeNEXT, Stephen Oliver, Trinity White, John Frego­nese, CodeNEXT Map

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