Public Notice: “We Can’t Hear You.”
CodeNEXT planning process remains a mystery
City Council began its deliberations on CodeNEXT at a special called meeting Wednesday, with a clear and unanimous recommendation from its top land-use commission. The city's Zoning and Platting Commission had voted Tuesday to send a formal letter to Council, city staff, and planning consultants, calling the proposed draft code "less clear and harder to use than the current code," saying that "the first CodeNEXT draft is incomplete, hard to understand, and will be difficult to use," and recommending "that the process be slowed down" and the code largely rewritten to scrap the current three-part structure and "provide a cohesive, unified, easy to administer code that can be used throughout the city."
After the regular ZAP meeting, there was a joint meeting of ZAP and the Planning Commission, at which commissioners took turns grilling city staff and consultants about why so much of the new "transect" zoning is concentrated in the existing close-in neighborhoods, and so little along the corridors and centers identified in the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan.
Consultants noted that new construction is very expensive, and that the average housing costs go up dramatically, in direct correlation to how much older, less expensive housing is demolished to make way for new construction – the first time they've directly admitted as much – but they almost immediately went back to the party line that incentivizing teardowns and denser replacements for existing low-cost, low-density housing is a plus. Commissioners on both sides of the density/preservation split seemed skeptical at best.
The commissioners had various other specific recommendations, but the discussion kept coming around to the consensus that the three-part code just basically doesn't work, and needs to be drastically simplified and rationalized, before any of their other questions can really be discussed.
At Wednesday's special called meeting, however, Council didn't take up their commissioners' challenge at all.
Members spent the first 90 minutes of their two-hour meeting getting to the bottom of the Envision Tomorrow tool, which the commissioners had been unable to do the day before. Consultant Alex Joyce called Envision "a calculator that helps the community understand the implications of various planning strategies," and explained that the early release version had bad data in it, but the new version (now available online) accurately reflects the expected housing construction outcome of the proposed draft zoning. That left less than 10 minutes apiece for the other three agenda topics for the day:
• Process Changes (Ann Kitchen reiterated that there's too much discretion given to staff; Kathie Tovo enumerated some examples – such as allowing staff to permit a bar in single-family residential zoning as a matter of administrative approval; it was agreed they would revisit).
• Corrections Process (no one really knows how these will be evaluated or tracked, but everyone agreed they ought to be).
• Timelines (receding into the future).
Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey seems to still believe that version 2.0 will be a "final" staff recommendation for the Boards and Commissions, when in fact, it appears far more likely that we are still at the stage of a very, very rough first draft, liable to be scrapped and redesigned from scratch.
Or maybe not. With the Envision Tomorrow flap taking up all the oxygen in this meeting, Council didn't even begin to get around to the bottom-line recommendation they've been hearing from their advisory commissions: that the entire three-part structure may need to be scrapped. Nor is that topic, as such, on any upcoming agenda. So, we shall see.
Council will meet twice a week for the next three weeks (9-10am Tue., 1-3pm Wed.); their specific agenda items are on the City Council message board.
June 7 is the deadline to submit comments on the code at www.austintexas.gov/codenext, in order to be incorporated into "version 2.0." The mapping comment deadline is July 7.
• Affordable Housing and CodeNEXT: A Good Fit for Austin, or Not? The League of Women Voters Austin Area hosts a forum this Sunday on how "CodeNEXT may affect the development of additional affordable housing in Austin." Panelists include Greg Anderson from Habitat for Humanity, Francisco Enriquez of Glasshouse Policy, Planning Commission Vice Chair Jim Duncan, Asian American Cultural Center's Amy Wong Mok, and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo. Sunday, June 4, 1:30-3:30pm at the Sustainable Food Center, 2921-C E. 17th.
• D9 Mapping Meeting: Sat., June 3, 10am-noon, Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second.
• Permitting & Process Code Talk: Wed., June 7, 6-8pm, Austin City Hall.
The City of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance are hosting "TRANSFORM!" – a two-day interactive exploration of Congress Avenue, with the goal of furthering the Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative (www.austintexas.gov/congressavenue). It starts Friday morning, June 2, with programming including walking tours and presentations about both the history and the design considerations of "The Main Street of Texas," from the YETI store at the south end, to the Old Bakery and Emporium on the north. YETI (220 S. Congress) hosts the project's temporary design lab where you can "share feedback on different design concepts addressing focus areas including mobility, ecology, economics, art/culture/history, and social justice." See the full schedule online.
The Austin ISD Summer Food Service Program starts Monday, June 5, offering free breakfast and lunch to all children 18 and younger, with no registration or ID required – just show up at any site to receive a healthy meal. The program will be available at more than 50 AISD schools; see the list at www.austinisd.org/nutritionfoodservices/summer-feed-program.