CodeNEXT Advisory Group Ready for Next Steps

Second draft of land development code soon to be in the works

When CodeNEXT staff released the first draft of the new land development code in January, they set a June 7 deadline for public comment to be incorporated into the second draft. A week after that deadline, reports are still trickling in from community groups and city commissions.

After two lengthy meetings, the CodeNEXT Advisory Group submitted eight pages of draft recommendations to the land use commissions (both the Zoning and Platting Commission and Planning Commission) late on Tue., June 13. The CAG wrapped their June 12 meeting at 9pm with lackluster support for the code rewrite in its current form. In a formal poll, half the group (12 members were in attendance) believed the draft should be implemented with "significant changes"; four voted for a "complete overhaul" of the draft; and two said they needed more time and information. Backing for the map was less uniform.

Noticeably, the CAG recommended to decrease CodeNEXT's current complexity by eliminating or reducing the three proposed zoning codes (form-based, use-based, and legacy – check "A Land Use Lexicon," June 9). Steven Zettner suggested the project adopt a "simpler code with a unified set of standards." Another priority is to maintain Austin's creative attributes. The group hopes the second draft includes "arts, music, and culture" in the project's purpose statement and that CodeNEXT staff work with city boards to craft a new section to support those endeavors.

More complicated recommendations include a request that the code better reflect Imagine Austin, the comprehensive city plan that birthed CodeNEXT. This would involve adding T6 zoning in regional centers like North Burnet/Gateway, prioritizing city centers outside the "urban core" for new development, and better addressing income and age diversity. Also, the CAG asks that the new code support small and/or "iconic" businesses to maintain community character.

Two recommendations focused on minimizing the risk of flooding: proposing the project conduct a watershed capacity analysis to determine limitations on impervious cover, and prohibit fees-in-lieu (when developers pay a fee instead of providing on-site retention ponds) for at-capacity drainage systems. The CAG also suggested the LDC consider incentivizing the "removal of impervious cover and the addition of trees and rain gardens." Other takeaways include reduced parking incentives, refining cooperative housing to increase affordable housing options, making parks accessible to residents without the use of major roadways, providing affordable family housing near schools in the urban core, and strengthening water-quality protections.

Though the CAG's final report won't be submitted until after their final meeting on July 5, most of their recommendations are done. The report will additionally examine CodeNEXT's affordability incentives, set for publication this Fri., June 16. One member, Lauren Ice, suggested that those recommendations be added as an addendum to the report: "Two weeks is not a lot of time to dig into this," she said, but others decided against. "I appreciate wanting more time, but I'm not sure how," said Mandy De Mayo, executive director at HousingWorks. "I really want to make sure – because [this] is so important – that it's included in the actual report." De Mayo volunteered to take the lead on delving into the incentives.

CodeNEXT came up again during at this Monday's Planning Commission meeting. Chair Stephen Oliver asked commissioners to provide feedback on the first draft by the "middle of next week" in hopes of finalizing their recommendations as soon as possible. The PC will meet again on June 27, and Oliver has asked the American Institute of Architecture to attend and share with commissioners AIA's key findings on the draft.

Fear of the unknown seemed to dominate the tone of Tuesday's meeting. Though most of the agenda focused on other current planning issues, several residents expressed concern over what would happen to the plans they're currently fighting for or against once the code is put into action. In an attempt to mollify the crowd and commissioners, Oliver offered, "This is a historical major rewrite, but it is not intended to be the end of every conversation – but the beginning of many."

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CodeNEXT, Steven Zettner, Imagine Austin, Mandy De Mayo, Lauren Ice, Stephen Oliver

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