Public Notice: Deadline? Whose Deadline?
Codenext: “We’ve got to figure this out”
CodeNEXT continues to roil at the city land use commissions. The latest twist on the land development code rewrite, coming out of the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night, Oct. 10, was a proposal to essentially decouple for now the mapping and text-writing parts of the project. As championed by PC Chair Stephen Oliver (who is Mayor Steve Adler's appointee, it's worth noting, so his opinions may carry extra behind-the-dais weight), the plan is to concentrate efforts on getting the code itself right, before moving on to the more thorny issues involved in applying the code to specific parcels in the mapping. In essence, Oliver argued, it's fruitless to debate which zonings ought to be applied where, if we don't yet really know what all those zonings mean.
This was met with some skepticism by the commission's density hawks, notably Greg Anderson and Chito Vela, but as a couple of other commissioners pointed out, the shift could well serve another proposal Vela put forward: that the planners present a range of scenarios rather than a single map, so that commissioners and the public can compare the benefits and drawbacks of alternate policies. A shift in focus to pin down lingering major questions and inconsistencies in the code text could give mappers the chance to do that scenario-building that they've thus far been unable to produce, while the zones themselves remain in flux. Remember, the Zoning and Platting Commission has passed a unanimous resolution declaring that there are too many zones, and that their structure is illogical ("Public Notice: Deciphering the Code," Oct. 6). Further work on the map at this point is like trying to do a paint-by-numbers picture when you haven't yet decided what the numbers mean.
To that end, the PC is plunging ahead with an ambitious and complicated plan for the one joint PC/ZAP meeting scheduled before the increasingly theoretical deadline for feedback on this draft. The plan for Oct. 24 would begin at 4pm, and include a joint meeting on compatibility, followed by six concurrent breakout sessions covering the major sections of the code – notably excepting the definitions of the zones themselves: Admin/Procedures; General Planning Requirements; Affordable Housing; Subdivision and Site Plans; Building, Demolition, and Relocation Permits; and Transportation. And starting at 9pm, the PC meeting will reconvene to hear reports from the breakouts – including whether each section of code is: 1) acceptable as written; 2) may be recommended but minor adjustments are needed; 3) requires significant changes; or 4) incomplete.
If commissioners make it that far, more power to them, but it won't nearly be the end of the road. But that's all right, said Stephen Oliver: "I don't think this commission should be worried at all about an October 31st deadline. We are going to move methodically through this. We're going to move section by section, topic area by topic area, in putting things into win columns, and columns that need to be improved to some degree or another. And when we get done with it, we will be done with it. But we're not going to take our foot off the gas, and we are not going to press on the gas so hard that we can't see straight. We've got to figure this out."
Meanwhile at Council this week, there's an item to extend the contract with CodeNEXT consultants Opticos Design, to the tune of $2.3 million in additional funding. Normally, such an extension would be approved on consent, but this time, in view of all of the above, there's been considerable pushback from both sides of the dais. It's clear that the now-$8.5 million project has been poorly managed, and the current product is far from ready for prime time. (There are still those who believe in the currently published deadlines for adoption; be assured, these are all people who have not actually read any of the code itself.) So it's not unreasonable to suggest that we stop paying the consultants for a while, clean up the draft they've given us, and call them back in if and when we figure out what we want from them, rather than having them throw darts at a swinging dartboard, and then ask how we like the result, which has been pretty much the strategy thus far.
The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk: Author Donna Miller is doing a signing event at the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 6:30pm, along with James and Annetta White, who built the Spoke themselves, and have been running it since the week LBJ was elected president. James will sing a few songs with Ben Stafford Rodgers as well; see www.austinhistorycenter.org for more info.
The Austin Animal Center is hosting Austin Kitty Limits – and Dogs! through Oct. 15, waiving adoption fees all week, at a time when the shelter is way beyond capacity, with dogs "housed in crates in a conference room, because all kennels are full." Drop in, 11am-7pm at 7201 Levander Loop, or browse the 600 or so adoptable pets at www.austintexas.gov/adoptablepets.