CodeNEXT Version 2: The Final Countdown
Marathon land use commission meeting precipitates close of public comment period
CodeNEXT took over City Hall on Tuesday, with multiple events and meetings scheduled to break down – or denounce – the latest draft of the land use code rewrite. With the public engagement period for draft two scheduled to end next Tuesday, Halloween night, and the expected Nov. 28 release for draft three, time is of the essence for the land use commissioners charged with overseeing the process. As neighborhood preservationists Community Not Commodity rallied outside the building, Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver cut short consultants John Miki and Peter Park's presentation on compatibility (ensuring harmonious transitions between different zoning uses) so that commissioners could ask questions and provide feedback.
Draft two uses the same compatibility methodology across all zone districts, which Miki called a step up from the current code (where compatibility is "buried") and draft one's three different compatibility solutions. But that did little to assuage commissioners' concerns. ZAP's David King suggested CodeNEXT continue using today's compatibility standards, and Oliver noted that compatibility is "one of the biggest topics we grapple with," promising another discussion on the subject.
The joint meeting ended shortly after 6pm, and the two commissions split for separate meetings. PC focused on breakout sessions for a deeper dive into the draft. The six teams discussed all the code sections not related to zones themselves: Admin/Procedures, General Planning Requirements, Affordable Housing, Subdivisions, Building/Demolition/Relocation Permits & Historic Structures, and Transportation. Overall, the sessions revealed that most issues require relatively minor tweaks with a few exceptions – most specifically affordability. Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza said the affordability session highlighted "big, structural concerns" with the density bonus program, reiterating session comments that suggested Austin's previous density bonuses haven't been very successful. Angela De Hoyos Hart seconded Zaragoza, saying, "There's considerable work to be done on the citywide program." (Hart was one of four PC commissioners who last Thursday urged the city to not delay CodeNEXT proceedings.) According to Zaragoza, S.M.A.R.T. Housing also seems up in the air and needs to be better sussed out.
The last 90 minutes of the meeting focused on scheduling, and included a long, heated discussion on how to best move forward. Oliver offered a resolution to create an interim map as a temporary tool to help City Council identify "necessary criteria [to] implement Imagine Austin policies." This, he believes, would give commissioners more time to offer a "thoughtful and cohesive recommendation" to Council. Oliver also suggested a marathon of meetings for land use commissions – five in November, three in December, and at least a daylong public hearing in January – in order to better examine the code. He's confident draft three will not introduce "major changes."
Zaragoza worried the proposed timeline might not be enough to digest all that's in CodeNEXT, leaving commissioners ill-equipped to recommend its passage to Council. "What we're doing could impact our community for decades," she stressed. Commissioner Chito Vela urged his colleagues to adopt Oliver's proposed timeline, but not his resolution to first focus on the text recommendations and then work on the mapping. Finally, at 11:45pm, PC voted 11-1 to pass Zaragoza's final motion supporting Oliver's resolution, the timeline with estimated dates, and a request that city staff develop a system to better answer commissioners' questions. Public comment, including both commissions' recommendations, is due on Tuesday.