Public Notice: The Calm Before ...

How to talk about talking about CodeNEXT

Public Notice: The Calm Before ...

There's a kind of a lull this week in the oft-bitter debate about land use policy, and specifically, the code rewrite process known as CodeNEXT. The land use commissions have just about finished their work, and City Coun­cil is poised to take up the discussion directly, providing some policy direction that's been sorely lacking throughout the process ("Public Notice," 2015-2018). Policy direction, of course, is typically most useful at the beginning of a process: An architect draws what she wants a building to look like, and then the builders build it. In this case city leaders asked for the building first – by now a Frankenstein's monster of draft code and mapping, addenda, and a welter of recommended amendments, five years in the making – and now will sit down to discuss what they want it to look like, and what they want it to accomplish.

The Planning Commission, after talking for months about the need for fine tuning and discretion, and the importance of scenario testing and assaying the effects of different policy "levers," caved in to the deadline pressure in the end, threw all that out the window, and voted their gut feelings, based on the data at hand – proposing a collection of fairly drastic policy recommendations that there hasn't been time to test, and that on occasion left the city staff and consultants scratching their heads or outright opposed. But that's all right, maybe: Several of the most important recommendations – parking, corridors – would literally send the drafters back to the drawing board, to turn the policy statements into actual text and maps, and presumably to test the effects of the various levers, individually and in tandem.

The PC's counterparts on the Zoning and Platting Com­mission took the opposite tack a couple of weeks ago, throwing in the towel on this draft altogether, asking staff to start over on defining the problems we're trying to fix, and asking Council to start addressing those problems with other tools. That stance has largely been viewed as a "do nothing" platform, though, with the result that ZAP has largely sidelined themselves, so it'll be interesting to see whether they get back into the game at their next meeting, Tuesday, June 5. Now, it generally happens that when boats take opposite tacks, they find that after the next change, they're headed directly back at each other; it's not impossible that ZAP's "start over" and the PC's "go further" could both wind up at the same point in the future – let's call it Draft Four.

Meanwhile, Council has the second of their public hearings this Saturday, June 2 at 10am (speaker sign-up starts at 9am). That's Item 1 of 2 on the agenda for this special called meeting; the second is to "establish the process and procedures for conducting the City Council deliberations and subsequent action on" CodeNEXT. Given the testy exchange CMs already had on this in work session ("Public Notice: New Math," May 25), that debate could go longer than the public hearing.

Then presumably if they can decide how to talk about CodeNEXT, that'll be what they talk about at their June 14 regular meeting.

Austin Humane Society's sixth annual Summer Kids Series offers free weekly sessions to help kids learn more about animals and animal care. It kicks off this coming Tuesday, June 5, with Story Time from 10 to 11am for kids 8 and under, and Tail Talks, a new series of interactive sessions designed for kids age 8-12, from 2-3pm. Online registration is now open at

Austin Public Library's Summer Reading Program is starting up as well, with multiple events daily, for all ages; see for full info.

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More CodeNEXT
Austin at Large: City Hall’s Game of Threes
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Spencer Cronk quizzes the Council to win a new land use code!

Mike Clark-Madison, March 22, 2019

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Nick Barbaro, March 22, 2019

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