Public Notice: CodeNEXT Version 1.1?
It was an eventful couple of days early this week on the CodeNEXT front, with an "Affordability Code Talk" on Monday, followed by the release of a "corrected" update of the code mapping, and a presentation to City Council about affordable housing incentives Tuesday, along with a daylong charrette process, and an unusually tortured Planning Commission meeting that evening. Whew. Let me try and unpack that, one topic at a time:
• Affordability: City staff and consultants held the Affordability Code Talk Monday with a lot of aspirations, but no firm idea of what the code will say about affordable housing incentives, because that part of the code isn't written yet. The next day, staff briefed Council on a broad outline of the plan: It would expand the areas where density bonuses are available (essentially, where developers can buy additional density by funding affordable housing), and it would open commercial properties to the incentives, as well. But there's little information about just what incentives are to be offered to developers as enticements to buy in. Currently, the primary hooks are increased height and floor-to-area ratios, and reduced parking requirements; but FAR calculations are removed entirely from the new code, and parking requirements are slashed across the board. The latter may or may not be a good idea as a blanket policy direction (that argument rages elsewhere), but it clearly removes one major tool from the affordable housing toolbox. That part of the code is being developed by ECONorthwest; their final presentation slide read: "Anticipate further policy details will be released in mid-June."
• Mapping Version 1.1 was not intended to signal a policy change, and it doesn't. There are a lot of properties affected, but generally in minor ways: going from T4 Shallow Setback to T4 Intermediate Setback, for instance.
• AIA Austin's daylong CodeNEXT charrette Tuesday brought together seven teams of professionals to test the new code on actual sites. AIA code liaison David Carroll said: "There was a lot of work produced by over 80 professionals," which will be organized into a report and made public. "Early results do indicate there is room for improvement and therefore we believe the product of this charrette will be vital to staff as the draft code evolves."
• But it was the Planning Commission that got down to the meat of the matter, in their Tuesday meeting. The agenda proposal was simply a vote to break out three different working groups, each trying to take a "deep dive" into different aspects of the new code (process, procedure, and planning; code text and policy alignment; mapping and zoning strategies), but the discussion went way beyond that, and revealed deep dissatisfaction with the current state of the code, and the entire process.
Commissioners expressed frustration at the amount of vetting still to be done, and the lack of clear direction, with Nuria Zaragoza at one point saying that it didn't seem likely that all the issues could be resolved by the time it gets to Council in 18 months – which may have been a slip of the tongue, since Council is currently expected to be looking at this mess by this December – but is probably a more realistic timetable. At the moment, this process is a hair's breadth away from being scrapped altogether and sent back to the proverbial drawing board. And the problem isn't the policy disagreements between the density hawks and neighborhood preservationists – it's the basic structure. Several commissioners, from both sides of the political divide, complained that the entire framework, envisioning three different sets of code – transect, non-transect, and the existing Chapter 25 code – was developed in a black box, without any consultation over whether this is a good general direction. Clearly, a majority at this point think it's not.
• Earlier in the evening, PC got a briefing regarding recommendations from last year's Flood Mitigation Task Force, from Matt Hollon of the Watershed Protection Dept., who noted that Watershed had had no input into the mapping or coding, and that no analysis has yet been done regarding impervious cover in individual watersheds, many of which are already subject to increased flooding. Oy.
• Mapping Meetings: This series of information sessions, by council district, is designed for residents to "understand the implications of the code as it is mapped in each district." Here's this week's schedule:
D1: Sat., May 13, 1-3pm, LBJ High, 7309 Lazy Creek
D5: Mon., May 15, 6:30-8:30pm, Crockett High, 5601 Manchaca Rd.
D8: Tue., May 16, 6-7:30pm, ACC Pinnacle, 7748 Hwy. 290 W.
D4: Wed., May 17, 6:30-8:30, Hart Elementary, 8301 Furness
Waller Creek Conversations are two open houses hosted by Austin PARD and the Waller Creek Conservancy, presenting plans for the new Waller Creek Park, stretching from Waterloo Park and the Moody Amphitheater (a 5,000-capacity "great lawn" enabled by a recent $15 million grant from the Moody Foundation), to the Waller Delta at Lady Bird Lake. More info at www.wallercreek.org/vision.
Sat., May 13, 10am-noon, Metz Rec Center, 2407 CanterburyWed., May 17, 6-8pm, Palm Door on Sabine, 401 Sabine
Anthropos Arts is a great organization that's been providing high-quality music education for low-income and at-risk students since last century. Their year-end concert features students and their world-class mentors – and this year honors the students' moms with the Real World Music Showcase on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 14, at 5pm at Emo's. It's free, but please donate generously at the door; info at www.anthroposarts.org.
The Austin Sierra Club spring picnic was delayed one week by rain; it's rescheduled for 6:30pm Tuesday, May 16, at the Polo Picnic grounds near the Barton Springs swimming pool. Bring a dish for the potluck.
Nasty Women Project: Voices From the Resistance is a book, but more: an anthology project telling "our personal stories" about how "the government is waging war on low-income women, among others, through regressive policy decisions including the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood." This first volume was conceived and executed within 90 days, and all sales proceeds go to Planned Parenthood. The five authors will be speaking and signing copies Sat., May 13, at 2pm at BookPeople, Sixth & Lamar.
45% of U.S. Rep. Roger Williams voters live in Travis County, yet he's been frankly dismissive of the policy concerns of this part of his constituency. A nonpartisan, volunteer group of CD 25 voters has organized a town hall for Rep. Roger Williams "meant to be civil and educational, not like the much-publicized 'mock' town halls that are being staged for GOP reps around the country." But in case he doesn't show up, a panel of policy experts from the NAACP, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Children's Defense Fund, and others are prepared to speak. Sat., May 13, 11:45am-2pm, at Huston-Tillotson University's King-Seabrook Chapel, 900 Chicon. RSVP to www.bit.ly/TX25EB.
May is Bike Month. It's still not too late to join the city's Big Jump Project kickoff party/ride/tour/film festival, tonight, Thu., May 11, at Alamo Drafthouse Mueller, 1911 Aldrich: ride at 6pm, films at 7:30… Bike Austin has announced full details for its annual Bike to Work Day, citywide on Fri., May 19, with some 45 fueling stations, and free B-Cycle memberships. See biketoworkaustin.org or austin.bcycle.com.