Public Notice: Do You Feel a Draft?
CodeNEXT set for a long overdue reality check
At press time Wednesday evening, rumors are flying that the CodeNEXT draft three has been, will be, or is in the process of being, postponed. No one quite knows which, which is par for the course in this years-long project, but I suspect that by the time you read this, the announcement will have been made that V.3.0 is being pulled off the shelf – perhaps for as long as three months, blowing well past the "official" deadline of Jan. 15. (See "CodeNEXTension?" Nov. 17)
This is not a delaying tactic; it's not a vote to "Stop CodeNEXT" (see "Point," Nov. 17); and it's not bad news for density proponents, either. It's good news for the city, because it's worth taking the time needed to get this very important, very complex set of laws right. And while the process has suffered from management problems throughout, it's most recently been strangled by this increasingly unmanageable timeline that assumed, frankly, better work than we've gotten thus far in the first and second drafts. And if they can't get it right in the third draft, we'll need a fourth – and a fifth, and a sixth, if that's what it takes.
It doesn't help that there's a ton of flak on all sides claiming that CodeNEXT either destroys neighborhoods, or doesn't do enough to transform them. (The only thing both sides agree on is that – whatever else they think it does – CodeNEXT will be a death knell for housing affordability.)
But here's the thing, and the reason you can pretty completely disregard anyone who gets up in arms about what CodeNEXT does or doesn't do: At this point, there's no way of telling what "CodeNEXT does," because there's still only a very rough draft of the code itself, and no consensus whatsoever on the mapping of that code onto the city, which is where the "density vs. preservation" argument will be played out.
That's what everyone wants to argue about: "I want my neighborhood to stay the way it is" vs. "We need neighborhoods to become more urban if we want to stop sprawl." And we do have to continue to have that argument. But for now, that's not where we are.
Quite apart from the mapping and zoning itself, the current draft still needs a lot of rewriting, redefining, and simple proofreading before another draft release. And more troubling, a good proportion of the experts who've tried to test-drive the new code are left questioning its basic structure and usability. Remember, simplification and ease of use were among the primary objectives of the rewrite. If the basic structure really doesn't work, we're pretty much back to step one.
Where the process dysfunction really hit home was at consultant John Fregonese's presentation to this Tuesday's joint meeting of the Planning and Zoning & Platting commissions. Fregonese promised a round of long-awaited scenario testing – he suggested seven scenarios, including at least three new ones based on different, as yet undefined tweaks to the mapping that would encourage more or less density in different parts of the city. The point is to figure out, as PC chair Stephen Oliver has put it, "what are the different levers that can be pulled to get different outcomes." That kind of scenario testing is what many, in and out of City Hall, have been asking for for over a year now – indeed, it's the kind of work that should logically have been done before a first draft was ever released or even contemplated – but I guess we should be happy it's happening now.
That'll give us a much better starting point if we have to start this process all over again from scratch next year.
If you read Richard Whittaker's piece a few weeks ago about the cycling of bond proposals ("Bondology," Oct. 27), you know we aren't finished with bond elections for long. We've had bond elections in Travis County each of the past five years now, and next year will be no different.
This year voters approved a record billion-dollar AISD facilities bond, and a relatively modest $185 million in Travis County spending on roads and parks. Next year it's the City of Austin's turn: Council established the Bond Election Advisory Task Force in 2016, to help recommend a package to put before voters in 2018. Specifically, Council asked for a focus on flooding, affordable housing, mobility, high-capacity transit, parks, libraries, and existing infrastructure, and city staff has proposed a package of $640 million – whittled down from a list of $3 billion in perceived needs – as "a starting point for the Task Force to consider."
They've scheduled a number of town halls across the city, because "its 13 appointed members want to better understand what City infrastructure needs are most important to Austin residents." Meetings are 6:30-8:30pm on the following dates. See more info at www.austintexas.gov/content/bond-election-advisory-task-force.
• Thu., Nov. 16, Little Walnut Creek Library, 835 W. Rundberg
• Tue., Nov. 28, University Hills Library, 4721 Loyola
• Wed., Nov. 29, ACC South Campus, 1820 W. Stassney
• Thu., Nov. 30, Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina
• Mon., Dec. 4, Spicewood Springs Library, 8637 Spicewood Springs Rd.
• Tue., Dec. 5, Northwest Rec. Center, 2913 Northland
• Thu., Dec. 7, Hampton Library at Oak Hill, 5125 Convict Hill
Raffle tickets for a 2017 Mazda6 Touring, benefiting the Austin Humane Society, are still available at press time, as are tickets to the 12th annual Rags to Wags Gala, this Sat., Nov. 18, at the Downtown Hyatt. Info on both at www.austinhumanesociety.org.
Reminder: ACA health insurance enrollment continues until Dec. 15; Foundation Communities offers free assistance at their Community Financial Centers, 5900 Airport and 2600 W. Stassney; see www.foundcom.org for hours.