Commissioners Hash Out CodeNEXT's Mobility Details

Cars, parking, and more addressed at recent meeting

Bike parking at the Central Library
Bike parking at the Central Library (Photo by John Anderson)

Land use commissioners spent Tuesday night covering a hodgepodge of material in CodeNEXT draft three, including sections on mobility, parking requirements, and accessory dwelling units. Draft three's transportation chapter introduces entirely new text and regulations, but the Austin Transportation Department is confident that the proposed language is superior to today's regulations. The latest rewrite calls for a multimodal approach to addressing transportation, whereas the current land development code only accounts for vehicular traffic. Focusing on roadway capacity only goes so far, said ATD Assistant Director Annick Beaudet, while a comprehensive approach considers mass transit, bicycles, and pedestrian modes of travel. Under CodeNEXT, new developments must provide "thorough" and "high quality" transportation analyses, which Beau­det said is "really important if we're going to improve all of our systems." Using the city's new transportation demand management tools, developers will find a set of strategies to help minimize the number of car trips generated by a proposed development. The goal is to get the development's number of net vehicle trips per day below 1,000. Should that not happen, the development will need a transportation impact analysis (currently triggered when net trips are over 2,000). Additionally, CodeNEXT adds a five-year expiration date to all TIAs. "Things change," Beaudet quipped.

Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver noted how the entire chapter had been "swapped out" and confessed he had trouble understanding the latest rewrite. "I felt like it got harder," he said. Concerns were alleviated when ATD said they have not yet received negative feedback from the civil and engineering communities, but Beaudet anticipates a learning curve for both staff and the community. The department has brought on a demand management staff and trainings are expected.

Tuesday's conversation grew tense when consultant John Miki addressed questions regarding parking requirement reductions. These remain a deeply contested part of CodeNEXT, reraising the question of whether the rewrite goes too far, or not far enough. Planning Commissioner Karen McGraw appears to believe the rewrite goes too far, and asked if any thought has been given to "what's going to happen in reality" when there's limited or no business parking available in a given place. Project Lead Greg Guernsey emphasized that parking reductions will not stop property owners from providing parking, and said some parking will still be required on most sites. Mean­while, PC's Greg Anderson applauded the latest draft for lowering parking requirements and asked if it would be possible for "big A" affordable housing to benefit from even greater reductions – a possibility, Miki said, though he also clarified that the new code will not trump ADA requirements, and ADA spaces will still be required.

There was also clarification on some ADU allowances. A 10,000-square-foot lot zoned single-family 3 today could be rezoned to R2C, under which it would be possible for the property owner to subdivide the lot into two and put ADUs on both lots. This has been a source of concern for neighborhood preservationists. Tuesday's meeting did not assuage those fears, though Guernsey said the aforementioned example wouldn't be greenlit without going before land use commissions. He also said city ordinance does not trump private deed restrictions, which prohibit ADUs entirely in some areas.

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