How Much Is 97%? AURA and Adler Exchange Notes on CodeNEXT.
Everybody's in transition zones over land use
As everybody in Austin waits for the other CodeNEXT shoe to fall – the citywide "mapping" of new zoning designations expected in mid-April – the land use policy wonks and activists at AURA say they're worried that the entire city land code rewrite is shaping up to be much ado about very little. They expressed that concern in a March 14 open letter to Mayor Steve Adler, responding to his assurances (quoted in the Statesman and elsewhere) that under the new code, 97% of the city's current neighborhoods would remain roughly the same. "Is the CodeNEXT outcome a foregone conclusion inside your office," they asked the mayor, "an outcome that will change nothing and help no one? Or do we want a city that prioritizes household affordability and remedying Austin's staggering walkability, connectivity, and traffic problems?" The letter pressed the mayor to "Go Bigger" by supporting code revisions that would change the "segregative land use policy" that AURA blames for Austin's increasing unaffordability and economic segregation.
The following day, Adler responded to AURA's letter with one of his own, posted on his website (www.mayoradler.com). He reiterated his belief that the city can achieve its housing goal (an additional 135,000 units over 10 years) along the transportation "corridors" and in designated "activity centers ... but not significantly impact the interiors of neighborhoods." And though the mayor opens by insisting CodeNEXT will not begin "with 97% of the product already decided," he later reiterates that the "transition zones" where most of this housing will be built will likely not amount to more than "3 to 5%" of the city. "It is not an indication," he continues, "of how much of the actual geographic land mass of this city will be left unchanged through CodeNEXT."
Asked by the Chronicle if the mayor's letter had allayed AURA's concerns, board chair Susan Somers said the response "still leaves us confused" and hoping for further dialogue. AURA is dedicated to "fair housing in every neighborhood of the city," Somers said, and the mayor's assurances that "traditional neighborhoods" will hardly be affected by code changes undermines that goal. "It's all in the details" of the code, she continued, including that a major problem is the "missing middle" of housing (affordable, smaller units in various forms) that AURA believes need to be included in every neighborhood. "Even if we do nothing," Somers said, "neighborhoods are still going to experience change – with massive new single family homes" – instead of the duplexes, fourplexes, and multi-units that are really needed but not allowed under the current code. Based on intensive review of the draft of CodeNEXT, Somers concluded, "We have pretty grave concerns that it won't do what is needed. But we're still optimistic that we can right the ship, and we want to be a part of the process."