The Austin Chronicle

Public Notice: What Is the Sound of One Shoe Falling?

City releases CodeNEXT draft to mild reaction ... so far

By Nick Barbaro, February 3, 2017, News

On the one hand, the world is going to hell, our civil liberties are down the drain, and our state and national governments and public institutions are being "disrupted" – intentionally, no less, by people who just hate effective democratic government. But I don't want to write, or think, about that.

On the other hand, the long-awaited first draft of Aus­tin's brand-new Land Develop­ment Code, known as CodeNEXT, was released this week, has drawn largely positive reviews, and is decidedly, and deliberately, not disruptive.

To the great relief of neighborhood and environmental activists – and much early online wailing and gnashing of teeth from the city's density hawks – the planners and consultants drafting CodeNEXT did exactly what they and Imagine Austin said they were going to do: rewrite the current, much-maligned code into a simpler form that's easier to read, use, and plan for, but not change any existing policies or protections/limitations to any great degree. In place of traditional zoning – single-family, multifamily, retail, etc. – the code lays out a range of "Transect Zones" from T3 (neighborhood edge) to T6 (Downtown highrise), with the most interesting area in the middle – from small-lot residential through "Main Street" low-rise retail, to mid-rise mixed use. There's less reliance in the new code on property uses, and more on the form of the building(s): height, setbacks, impervious cover limits, etc. Thus, planners hope to encourage a mix of housing types across especially the T4 zones – emulating parts of some current neighborhoods, planners pointed out. But there's no attempt yet to define where in the city those zones would be applied. That mapping will be rolled out in April, and to a large extent, it's hard really to tell much until then. Still, all of the presenters at the Tuesday rollouts to City Council and to the joint Planning and Zoning & Platting commissions were at pains to emphasize that CodeNEXT, in and of itself, is not intended to do any upzoning.

John Miki of Opticos Design said it perhaps most directly, in response to a question from CM Ora Houston about increasing equity across the city: "Things have changed in the city of Austin. Now we're not in the position anymore where we're thinking about 'How do we incentivize development in East Austin?' Now maybe it's time to think about policy questions that say 'How do we think about providing some of these protections to East Austin?' But I will caution ... that CodeNEXT at this point is providing the tools to implement existing policies. If it is a policy direction to change past decisions in East Austin, we think we are providing the tools to be able to do that, but it is a policy and a planning process that likely either has to run concurrent with CodeNEXT or it needs to be something that happens after CodeNEXT, because again we are working right now to implement existing policies."

That policy and planning process will indeed be engaged, by both those who want to see more neighborhood protections, and those who want to see less restrictions on new construction. Official public outreach sessions are tentatively set to begin Feb. 18. Meanwhile, see the draft code, and leave comments, at

The Food+City Challenge Prize competition, an annual event for early stage start-ups and innovators in the global food supply system, takes place this Saturday, Feb. 4, from 11am-4pm at UT's McCombs School of Business. It's free and open to the public. Nine different countries are represented among the 18 finalist teams; attend to offer feedback, and root for East Austin's Joe's Organics, which picks up food waste from green businesses, composts it, and grows specialty produce for chefs and farmers' markets. More info at

The Big Game: The Austin Humane Society's 10th annual Puppy Bowl is this Saturday, Feb. 4, noon-3pm at 124 W. Anderson. Tailgate party features food from three local trailers plus Bow Wow Bones, Austin's first mobile food truck for dogs; local beer by NXNW Brewery; kids' activities; music; and more, including dozens of puppies looking for their forever homes, available for a discounted adoption fee of $150. Two teams go head to head for Team MVP at 12:30 and 2:30, and the puppy players make their Super Bowl prediction at 1:30pm.

Discovering Texas History Conference, presented by the Texas State Historical Association, will focus on the history of Texas from 1900 through the present day. It's intended for fourth and seventh grade Texas history educators but open to the public, with a variety of breakout sessions addressing historical content, geography, economics, civics, teaching strategies, and resources. Texas Archive of the Moving Image will give a presentation at 11am titled "Lights, Camera, Click!" about its free educator resources and using archival film as primary source material. Mon.-Tue., Feb. 6-7, 8am-4pm at the Thompson Conference Center Monday, and the Bullock Texas State History Museum Tuesday. Register at

AISD's Facility Master Plan community engagement conversations wrap up with a meeting Thu., Feb. 2 at Gorzycki Middle School, 6-8pm. More info at

The Housing Bond Review Committee will meet Friday, Feb. 3, at 4pm in the Street-Jones Building, 1000 E. 11th, to review an application for Elysium Park, an 85-unit development at 3300 Oak Creek Dr. in Northwest Austin. The meeting is open to the public.

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