CodeNEXT Year, Maybe

The city’s land use rewrite had one helluva year

A constituent addresses Mayor Adler at a CodeNEXT community meeting in August (Photo by Annalise Pasztor)

CodeNEXT, the city's massive rewrite of its 30-year-old land development code, had one helluva year. Though the endeavor began in 2012, the first draft of the new LDC wasn't unveiled until late last January, two weeks after a partial leak stirred fears about how to best marry Austin's need for more housing with its attempts to stall gentrification and simultaneously preserve existing neighborhoods. Draft one did little to settle stomachs on that front, what with its introduction of new bifurcated zoning types (transect vs. non-transect), which land use commissioners and residents alike thought went too far, changed too much, and opened the door for bars and restaurants to open in residential areas. It didn't help that neither the map nor the draft chapter on density bonus programs were released until months later. Land use commissioners and the CodeNEXT Advisory Group both worried they wouldn't have enough time to dig into the language before feedback for draft two was due.

City staff received more than 4,000 comments on the first draft of the text, and more than 2,500 on the map. Draft two came in September. At its release, Mayor Steve Adler cast the new draft as an improvement, and said things would only continue to get better if the community stayed engaged. And folks took that message to heart – by publicly and actively casting doubt and scorn on the entire rewrite process. Within days, Community Not Commodity, one of the loudest anti-CodeNEXT groups, released a statement saying, "Our experts include a rocket scientist and a number of Ph.D.s, yet we are having trouble quickly making heads or tails of the new code and map."

CodeNEXT 2.0 did away with transect zones, expanded the density bonus programs, and introduced a modified version of the McMansion Ordinance to help discourage demolition of existing housing. But commissioners bemoaned the information flow from staff and code consultants: It posed a problem to draft two's tight, two-month turnaround.

Those concerns came back around to bite CodeNEXT in late November, a few days before the anticipated release of draft three, when staff conceded to punting the third and final(?) round of revisions to February 2018. With the delay, and City Council still somehow planning to vote on the new LDC in April, we're betting CodeNEXT finds itself among next year's top stories, too.

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