CodeNEXT: Still Stuck

Draft two brings growing pains for the land use rewrite

CodeNEXT: Still Stuck

CodeNEXT appears stuck between a rock and a hard place. City staff and code consultants insist draft two improves upon the first version of the land use code rewrite – and, more importantly, is not a final product. Yet the majority of advocacy groups and relevant city commissions are waffling between concern and anger. Waffling or not, draft recommendations from the city's land use commissions are still due Oct. 31, just barely more than three weeks away.

Neighborhood preservationists aligned as Community Not Commodity have been busy unpacking the draft, and held a rescheduled press conference on Sept. 28 to deride CodeNEXT V.2 as worse than the first – "a severe threat to existing middle class and low-income residents," said its spokesperson Mike Lavigne. The group argues that the latest draft promotes demolition by "creating opportunities for higher profit margins and increasing the incentive to raze existing, more affordable housing." Meanwhile, urbanist group AURA has reiterated longstanding concerns that the current proposals don't go far enough toward creating "new housing stock in the central city," which they argue would make Austin more affordable. AURA is pushing for the code to help construct "at least 150,000 new homes" in District 9 within the next decade. The group did applaud the addition of ADUs in more areas and the proposed conversion of current commercial-only districts to mixed-use to allow housing in more areas of the city.

CodeNEXT staff have been just as busy. On Monday, Oct. 2, they hosted the second draft's first community open house, with approximately 50 residents attending. Staffer Jerry Rusthoven addressed fears regarding gentrification and displacement, calling both serious issues in the community that can't "be fixed solely by a land development code." (It was also noted there that the max ADU square footage, proposed in the new draft, is 1,100 – not 1,150, which we previously reported based on a typo within the draft.)

On Tuesday, before the city's land use commissions, mapping consultant John Fregonese, ECONorthwest's Lorelei Juntu­nen, and Neighborhood Housing and Community Develop­ment Department staffer Erica Leak addressed redevelopment and the proposed density bonus program. Juntunen said draft two opens the door for 5,000 more income-restricted units through the additional acreage eligible for the expanded Density Bonus Program (only 1,200 could be built under the current program), though she warned that's not a forecast of what developers will necessarily choose to build. Leak once again noted that these incentives are "one of many tools necessary to achieve the city's housing blueprint goal," and reiterated that inclusionary zoning (which can mandate affordable housing) is currently illegal in Texas.

In the coming week, CodeNEXT staff will hold open houses at Crockett High School (Mon., Oct. 9, 6-8pm) and Hart Elementary (Wed., Oct. 11, 6-8pm, with language services available in Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, and Manda­rin), and the Zoning and Platting Commission will host a public listening session at the Asian American Resource Center at 10am on Sat., Oct. 14. CodeNEXT staffer Jorge Rous­selin called these meetings an "invitation to you to help us get this right."

This story has been updated to accurately note the spelling of Erica Leak’s last name.

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CodeNEXT, Community Not Commodity, AURA, Mike Lavigne, Jerry Rusthoven, John Fregonese, Lorelei Juntunen, Erica Leak

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