Public Notice: Let’s Hope ...

Soccer planning goes better than plan planning

Public Notice: Let’s Hope ...

News broke overnight Monday night that the Columbus Crew, one of the original 10 Major League Soccer franchises, is officially and actively looking to move to Austin, perhaps as soon as 2019.

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt was in town on Wednesday, taking folks' temperature, and assuring everyone that this is indeed serious – not a bargaining ploy, but a sincere belief and gamble that Austin's soccer culture and "Keep Austin Weird" vibe represent a market finally ready for its first major league team. Given the bridges this announcement appears to have burned back in Columbus, I'm inclined to believe it's for real.

But: "Everything will be driven by the stadium location," Precourt told me, and indeed, it's no secret that that's been the major stumbling block for previous efforts as well. So far all the signs are good: Precourt swears he's not looking for public money; he's committed to a Downtown location, and a vibrant street scene, and perhaps a small footprint with minimal parking if the transit situation works. Still, if such sites were readily available, even within an expanded notion of Downtown, we might have had a team before now. There's a lot of speculation about various sites, each with their own pluses and minuses, but thus far Precourt says he's looking at various options, and is open to suggestions, so I'll honor that for now and not speculate. (As an interim step, the Crew might play at UT's Myers Stadium for two years, 2019-20.) Much more to come, and see "Soccer Watch" online for more details.

Meanwhile in CodeNEXT hell, it was the Zoning & Platting Commission's turn this week to beat their heads against the wall that is this extremely dysfunctional process. Given a brief slot at the end of their regular meeting to discuss the narrowing window for meetings and work sessions before their feedback is due Oct. 31, the commissioners could basically only register their frustration that the current schedule means that the third and supposedly final draft of the code and map will come out without the feedback from ZAP and Planning commis­sions incorporated, and with no time to consider feedback from other stakeholders.

Please understand: The discussion at this point isn't about whether there should be more or less density, or whether the process should be slowed or expedited, it's about 1) there are major and minor inconsistencies and ambiguities in the 1,388-page text that need to be resolved; 2) there's considerable sentiment among the commissioners – perhaps a majority – that the basic structure of the code needs significant retooling before it heads to City Council to be debated endlessly and eventually drafted on the fly on the dais at 3am some Friday morning.

There are sections of this second draft which the drafters said were incomplete when they released it, and needed commission input; yet staff haven't gotten that input, nor in some cases supplied the missing information that would inform that input. So it's a significant understatement to say that the land use commissioners are frustrated at this point.

Yet without Council intervention, that's the path we're going on: Staff clarified this week that draft three will be the staff recommendation. "The PC and ZAP recommended changes (both map and text) will be prepared in two separated documents and presented to the City Council." As for AIA Austin, the League of Women Voters, or any of many, many other interest groups or individuals who may find errors or have suggestions – they're apparently cut loose from the process, and entreated to present their cases directly to Council, one supposes, as best they can.

Anyway, just to prolong the torture, ZAP and PC will hold their one pre-deadline joint session this coming Tuesday, Oct. 24, starting at 4pm, continuing with breakout sessions on various topics at 6pm for PC, while ZAP members run across the river to One Texas Center to convene and discuss their own recommendations, before they get back together at 9pm to receive the reports from the breakout sessions. See this column online for the full schedule, and some selected quotes. Here's just a couple:

Jolene Kiolbassa: "How about answers to our questions? We submitted them in April. ... This is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous."

David King: "I don't want to keep going through this make-believe process of pretending .... We need some data; we need the information we asked for before we can proceed to the next step."

Ann Denkler: "Can we just shoot ourselves?"

Joint PC/ZAP Meeting: Tuesday, Oct. 24

Overall Agenda
4pm – Joint PC/ZAP Meeting. Agenda: Q/A session on Compatibility. 5:45 Adjournment
6pm – PC Meeting (Council Chambers). Agenda: Consent items only and CodeNEXT Breakout Session.
6:45-8:45pm – Convene six breakout sessions in City Hall.
9pm – Reconvene Planning Commission meeting for reports from Breakout Sessions.

Breakout sessions:
Six rooms will be divided into the following groups with supporting staff to aid in answering questions related to these topic areas covering the major sections of the code – notably excepting the definitions of the zones themselves:

Group 1. 23-2 Admin/Procedures (note that Definitions and Measurements should be looked as necessary by each group)
Group 2. 23-3 General Planning Requirements (i.e. Heritage Trees, Water Quality); will also include some aspects of 23-10 Infrastructure.
Group 3. 23-3E Affordable Housing
Group 4. 23-5 Subdivision; 23-6 Site Plan; will also include some aspects of 23-10 Infrastructure.
Group 5. 23-7 Building, Demolition, and Relocation Permits, Special Requirements for Historic Structures
Group 6. 23-9 Transportation; will also include some aspects of 23-10 Infrastructure.

Breakout Session format and goals:
Each room will be led by 1-2 Planning Commissioners with staff support. The objective of the session is to review the Draft 2.0 text sections applicable to each group and to provide a preliminary assessment as to whether each division of code should be placed into one of four categories:
• Acceptable as written
• May be recommended but minor adjustments are needed
• Requires significant changes
• Incomplete

The groupings as identified above will then be presented to the full planning commission upon reconvening at 9pm.

MoreZAP Commissioner quotes:

David King: “I don’t know where to start. We’re talking about a schedule, and we’re wrestling with a schedule, and already seeing there’s not enough time, and we have unanswered questions.

“We passed a resolution asking for those questions to be answered. We passed a resolution saying please provide us this data, this information so we can make our recommendations. How much longer do I go on and on and on trying to make a recommendation when I don’t have all the information and when questions go unanswered?

“I’m at the point to say I don’t want to keep going through this make-believe process of pretending that we have all this time to look at the code and make great recommendations and really be in a position to vote on this. When do we say we need more time ourselves to come up with our recommendations? I just think it’s time that we put our foot down and say enough is enough. We need some data, we need our questions answered, we need the information we asked for before we can proceed to the next step.

“And I’m just not willing to continue to pretend that we’re going to plan all these public meetings and we’re going to be in a position to make a recommendation on the code that’s going to affect us for 30 or 40 years down the road. I am just not comfortable with moving on. I think we need more time before we commit to any other scheduled meetings on CodeNEXT.”

Chair Jolene Kiolbassa: “Thank you, Commissioner King, and I think you’ve hit the heart of the problem. And the problem is we are not setting the schedule. Every time that we have said, please slow down – I mean, I look at our commission and I’m actually very impressed with the way that we have handled the material, and the way that we know the material, and still our questions are unanswered, you’re right, and exactly how do we proceed? Should we – I’m at a loss, too, this is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”

King: “One thing about a software development process is, it’s iterative;” you get feedback all along during the process, “and that hasn’t been done here.”

Kiolbassa: “How about answers to our questions? We submitted them in April.” Ann Denkler: “Can we just shoot ourselves?”

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CodeNEXT, Columbus Crew, Major League Soccer, Anthony Precourt, Jolene Kiolbassa, David King, Ann Denkler

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