Public Notice: Tool of Racism?
CodeNEXT fears aired; hopes expressed
By Nick Barbaro, Fri., Feb. 24, 2017
For a City Council and staff trying hard to put a happy face on the ongoing CodeNEXT process to rewrite Austin's land development code, it's been a tough 10 days – as several Eastside representatives came out with dramatic statements regarding the gentrification of the traditionally minority Eastside.
On Feb. 13, Austin's La Raza Roundtable sent a letter to City Council saying they fear "that the new code will fuel even more and faster displacement of longtime residents and businesses in East Austin, where our communities have already experienced tremendous gentrification in the past five to ten years."
Last week, in a different context, AISD Trustee Ted Gordon lamented the proposed move of the LASA magnet school, saying that "to tear down black Anderson and rebuild a citadel to elite educational practices" in its place could be "the ultimate step in gentrification of the city."
Then on Wednesday, the Statesman front page Metro section led with the headline, "CodeNEXT derided as tool of racism" by the mayor's own Task Force on Institutional Racism. Ouch.
In response to some of that criticism, perhaps, the CodeNEXT consultants and city staff asked for a chance to brief Council this Wednesday, Feb. 22, and took the opportunity to lay out some of their secrets about mapping – to be revealed April 18 – and address a few of the most common questions and concerns that have arisen since the draft code came out. Various people noted how hard it is to discuss anything about the code, without seeing the mapping. As Jimmy Flannigan put it, "Inherently, we're all predicting the worst-case scenario." But the consultants from Opticos Design gave some hints about how:
• Compatibility has been integrated into the base zoning requirements, via increased setbacks, and reduced heights, for properties adjacent to, or across the alley from, low-density residential properties.
• Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts and Transit Oriented Districts will be left in place – "exclusively in non-transect zones" – because they're deemed too fine-grained for the new code to replicate.
• Conditional Overlays will be replaced, where possible, with "new base zones that implement the same intent." Some COs will be left in place because they're so specific to the location.
• A new Conditional Use Permit process will require a "land use commission" approval, while a brand-new "Minor Use Permit" could be approved by staff without public hearings (that one seemed to make a couple of CMs nervous).
All in all it was a hugely helpful meeting – more information is always better than fearful speculation. Toward the end Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, stated what is doubtless everyone's hope: "Zoning may not go away, but it could be less painful." And Mayor Steve Adler had the last word: "I'm not saying it's gonna be easy to get from here to there, but, I'm encouraged."
City staff began public outreach sessions this week; at each meeting, they'll make a brief presentation, set up displays of the key points in the code, and mingle to discuss and answer questions. Meetings are:
• Sat., Feb. 25, 1-3pm, Lanier High, 1201 Payton Gin
• Sat., March 4, 1:30-3:30pm, LBJ High, 7309 Lazy Creek Dr.
• Sat., March 25, noon-2pm, Austin High, 1715 W. Cesar Chavez
• Sat., April 1, noon-2pm, Westwood High, Round Rock
See the draft code, leave comments, or sign up for notifications at www.austintexas.gov/codenext.
One of the contentious issues regarding CodeNEXT, of course, is how existing neighborhood plans will be integrated into the new code. So it is ironic, perhaps, that the city is midway through planning for the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Plan, governing the area bounded by Burnet Road to MoPac, and Anderson Lane to U.S. 183. The fifth public meeting in that process is scheduled for 9am-noon on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Pillow Elementary School Cafeteria, 3025 Crosscreek Dr. See more info at www.austintexas.gov/northshoalcreek.
The public is invited to a discussion about the historic Palm School and the proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center, on Saturday, Feb. 25, from 10am-noon at the Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez (the room is still being determined). Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez will host the meeting; there may enough other CMs there for this to constitute a special called Council meeting. The ACC would dearly love to expand a full block to the west (see www.austinconventioncenter.com); Gómez is leading a work group to study Palm, a school campus since 1896, which the County may vacate in the near future.
For the sixth year, Whole Earth Provision Co. presents the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Paramount Theatre, donating proceeds to Texas State Parks. The Radical Reels Tour, a selection of high-adrenaline films from the Banff festival, shows Monday, Feb. 27, at 7pm (Sunday is sold out). Tickets are $22; see www.wholeearthprovision.com/banff.
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.