Public Notice: Back to the Present
Hitting the refresh on CodeNEXT
The Nov. 28 joint CodeNEXT work session of the Zoning & Platting and Planning commissions, held on the precise date that the now-delayed third draft was originally scheduled to be released, had a more hopeful feel to it than others in recent memory. For one thing, it was the first in a long time that staff and commissioners alike weren't struggling under the weight of a deadline they knew was ridiculously unrealistic. And though it's taken years to get here, there may finally be a feeling that we're at a starting point of sorts.
Staff made a brief presentation, but the only thing that's really new is, in fact, a return to square one: Consultant John Fregonese had provided the requested "equivalency map," simply translating current zoning into its closest equivalent in the new code. What it shows more than anything else is where the staff and consultants had diverged from the current zoning in the previous draft of the map. Specifically, some 14% of the lots in the city were proposed to get a change in zoning. Of those, about two-thirds are properties that were to be upzoned to R3, from what are currently equivalent to R2.
In other words, despite repeated assurances that the initial rounds of mapping were meant to be "policy neutral," the planners now confirm what critics have been claiming all along: that the draft maps specifically and intentionally upzoned essentially all of the existing single-family housing in the urban core to allow from three to up to seven units per lot. So now, whether that is indeed good policy is an issue that can be discussed – indeed needs to be discussed, hopefully in a more context-sensitive format – but for it to be snuck in, with no policy direction, and then lied about, is not right.
But as I said, things were looking up on Tuesday. Staff and consultants have promised at least three scenario tests, letting officials check the expected results of different zoning strategies. Given the equivalency map as a starting point, PC chair Stephen Oliver said he hoped to "use that as the building point for lots of levers, that we will try to pull, [to see] what little levers have big impacts, and what big levers might only have a little impact, so that we can kind of see what happens when we ask for something, and then we will look to try and find some desired outcomes that we're trying to achieve with those levers." Sounds so logical, one wonders why we didn't get here two years ago.
As Columbus Crew FC continues to work on finding a stadium site in order to move their MLS team here to Austin, it's becoming more and more apparent that – as I first reported back in October – their primary target site is indeed the Butler Shores tract, behind Zach Scott at the mouth of Barton Creek. There are concerns about the size and suitability of the site, but another issue is that it's dedicated city parkland, which requires a city election. That creates a serious time crunch: To meet the team's deadline of having a stadium plan in place by next summer, the city would have to hold such an election in either March or May, which really puts both the team and city under the gun to get all the details in place.
Team ownership say they'd welcome such a vote, but development attorney Richard Suttle told the Statesman this week that "we would have to evaluate whether an election scenario fits into the scheduling." Suttle has argued unsuccessfully before for circumventing such elections on a similar parkland deal at Decker Lake, but the city charter language is pretty clear: "council shall have no power to, and shall not ... Sell, convey, lease, mortgage, or otherwise alienate any land which is now, or shall hereafter be, dedicated for park purposes," without voter approval. If that is indeed the trajectory we're on, more specific plans should be forthcoming in short order.
(Meanwhile, Go Crew! They're trying to get to the MLS Eastern Conference finals as we go to press; see "Soccer Watch," Dec. 1)
Heart of the City: A Celebration of the Cosmic Cowboy! is this year's major fundraiser for the SIMS Foundation, a great organization that's been providing often lifesaving mental health services to Austin's music community for over 22 years now. The event is "21 Performers, 3 Storytellers, 1 Unforgettable Night of Cosmic Country, bringing outlaw country home to Emo's in support of Austin's working musicians and music industry professionals." It's Sat., Dec. 2, at Emo's, 2015 E. Riverside: Tickets are $35-125; VIP reception at 7pm, show at 8:30. More info at www.simsfoundation.org/heart-of-the-city.
City Bond Election Advisory Task Force open houses continue this week and next; weigh in on the pending $640 million bond package you may be voting on next November:
• Thu., Nov. 30, 6:30-8:30pm, Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina
• Mon., Dec. 4, 6:30-8:30pm, Spicewood Springs Library, 8637 Spicewood Springs
Or see www.austintexas.gov/content/bond-election-advisory-task-force.
Reminder: ACA health insurance enrollment is underway through Dec. 15; Foundation Communities offers free assistance at their Community Financial Centers, 5900 Airport and 2600 W. Stassney; see www.foundcom.org for hours.
A Nov. 27 AISD press release on this week's property sale (p.18) said: "The district stands to realize more than $60 million in revenue from the sale ..." Sorry, but it's more than just semantics to point out that a sale of assets is not revenue. That's like saying you made a $1,000 bonus this week, because you just went and emptied out your bank account. I know it's just a slip of the keyboard, but it's also just the sort of subtle wordplay that voodoo economics is based on.