CodeNEXT's final draft set for release on Monday

Jim Duncan
Jim Duncan (Photo by John Anderson)

The third and final draft of CodeNEXT is at the printers this week for its Monday, Feb. 12, unveiling, thereby icing any tangible changes to the zoning rewrite's actual language. But the city's land use commissions aren't getting any reprieve – and, in fact, those from the Zoning and Platting Commission still request more time. The body's distrust in the schedule stems from concerns that city staff has sought to silence the more trepidatious of the two commissions by naming Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver as the de facto lead whenever the two commissions get together, and also over the timeline Oliver proposed in January for discussion and recommendation of the new code.

Tensions between the two commissions have been mounting for some time now, and they remained clear during the ZAP meeting Tuesday night. CodeNEXT staffer Jerry Rusthoven requested ZAP consider a single joint public hearing with the PC on the third draft, but commissioners requested two hearings – with one chaired by ZAP and the other by PC. ZAP Vice Chair Jim Dun­can affirmed that commissioners from both bodies would be in attendance for the public hearings.

Rusthoven recorded ZAP's unanimous motion on public hearings after 45 minutes of discussion – specifically calling for enough time to digest the latest draft and "at least" two meetings, evenly divided between ZAP and PC, to cover both the text and map. Commissioners also requested the meetings be held in different sections of town and with various days and hours.

They then fired off questions to staff and a handful of code consultants in attendance. Topics included PUDs, density bonus programs, localized flooding, and accessory dwelling units. Without unveiling specifics, code writers tried to assuage fears while also dropping some hard truths.

What We (think we) Know

Nuria Zaragoza
Nuria Zaragoza

Draft three will reflect changes to PUD regulations, which Duncan has long blasted as being broken in the current code. Rust­hoven promised "major changes," but did not get into specifics; doing so would "ruin the surprise." Pressed on why the density bonus programs look so different in different places, consultant Ian Carlton explained that this allows developer incentives to match with the base zonings of each neighborhood. "It's designed to be very specialized," he concluded. F-25 zoning (the current code) will still be found in CodeNEXT – though in fewer areas than in draft two – due to the city's overuse of conditional overlays. Because today's code has too few zoning restrictions, COs have historically been used to restrict use. Some COs have been "mimicked" in the new LDC, said consultant John Miki, but not all.

Miki said CodeNEXT introduces more zones – responding to what Commissioner Bruce Evans dubbed Austin's "stamp collection of zoning" – in order to give the city a "good foundation to move forward" – without creating more overlays and exceptions Miki confirmed the zones have been simplified in draft three, but the number remains the same. "Understand," he told commissioners, "the reason for having this many zones is to give you the tools so you don't fall into bad habits."

As for localized flooding, consultants confessed the issue can't be fixed through a code rewrite, but rather should be handled with a set of massive fixes to city infrastructure. With regard to general flooding, the new code will keep the current code's impervious cover limits and require most new and redevelopments to deal with water mitigation through various tools.

The Road Ahead

Wednesday evening as we go to press, Planning Commissioners are sitting down to a special-called meeting with their mapping working group to learn about the new code's mapping levers (housing variables based on roughly 20 conditions). Departing member Nuria Zaragoza told me on Tues­day that while she couldn't discuss those outcomes in advance of the presentation, she's optimistic they'll show some indications of equity scales. "It's so useful because we don't want to follow the decades-past examples of simply focusing on specific areas," she said, adding that she hopes the new levers will "help commissioners make an informed decision" on CodeNEXT.

Yet Zaragoza learned on Wednesday that her resignation last week meant she was barred from participating as a member in that night's meeting. Her replacement Todd Shaw said prior to Wednesday's meeting that he expected to be sworn in at 4pm.

The third draft (henceforth referred to as the "staff policy recommendation") will be released on Monday, Feb. 12. Land use commissioners get a presentation at their joint meeting the next evening; City Council will see it earlier in the day during its weekly work session. Consultants from Opticos Design, Lisa Wise Consulting, Frego­nese Associates, Peter J. Park LLC, and ECONorthwest will all be in attendance at those sessions.

See the Chronicle Daily News for a report on Wednesday night’s meeting.

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CodeNEXT, Stephen Oliver, Nuria Zaragoza, Todd Shaw, Jim Duncan

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