Public Notice – CodeNEXT: The Halftime Score?
If you view the code rewrite simply as a struggle between the urbanists and the preservationists, it's fair to ask, who's winning?
Is it just World Cup fever that has me thinking of things in terms of sports scores? Probably so, but anyway, it kind of feels like we're at a halftime break of sorts, when it comes to the harder-than-it-had-to-be rewrite of the city's land development code. City Council has finally wrestled the beast onto the dais, asked everyone to take a breather while they take their well-deserved July break, and we'll be back into the fray in August, or so.
It's not like the World Cup group stage, though, because the scores don't reset. The work done so far in the process definitely carries over, so if you view the code rewrite simply as a struggle between the urbanists and the preservationists, it's fair to ask, who's ahead at halftime?
And if you look at it that way, I think it's clear that the current draft is an overwhelmingly one-sided win for the urbanists. The parking reductions that appeared for the first time in draft three – with minimums cut in half for starters, then reduced further, down to zero parking required for any bars and restaurants under 2,500 square feet – are a huge change from the current code. Add in considerable upzoning of particular neighborhoods, especially in the rest of the Eastside, plus changes in regulations citywide to allow more residential units on smaller lots, with less public notice or review, and you have a lot of changes in the direction of encouraging denser housing forms in the place of single-family houses, and squeezing car owners to encourage transit, walking, and biking. Those are high-value goals for the urbanist team, though they do come at some costs in terms of affordability and livability.
For the traditional neighborhood advocates and residents, though, there's little to cheer: the barest of nods toward preserving the dwindling supply of "market-affordable" housing for either homeowners or renters, and really, nothing else but various degrees of bad news. Parking would get worse, upzonings and increased entitlements mean property valuations and thus housing costs and displacements would almost certainly rise in the short term (at least until the new high-end units begin to trickle down toward affordability), the rights to notice and appeal would be curtailed, and – to balance all that – there are none of the protections against displacement and gentrification that they've been asking for. To be fair, a lot of those actions have to happen outside of the land development code, but Council has yet to commit to a program of anti-displacement initiatives such as preservation districts and a "right to stay" policy that Eastside advocates have been asking for for a long time – initiatives that would nicely complement the record affordable housing ask in the upcoming November bond package (see "Hurry Up Please, It's Time," March 9, and "People's Housing Justice," April 13). So really, I'm seeing this as a shutout so far, and hoping for a comeback, because this isn't a sport, and the whole point is to not have winners and losers.
(Most importantly, no one has yet committed to the sort of fine-grained, context-based applications of the code – small area plans, essentially, that account for actual conditions on the ground in specific areas. And that's an issue where nobody wins, because that sort of planning has to be the underpinning of any final product. But that'll have to wait for second overtime, I guess.)
Your City at Work
While it seems the rest of the city is on vacation or hiding to stay cool, your civic servants are hard at work ....
Special Events: Write the Rules. City Council recently adopted a special events ordinance to revise the city's special event permitting process. Austin Center for Events will begin processing event applications under the new ordinance next April, but they still have to develop the rules under which the process will operate. ACE is asking for public input at a series of public meetings this summer, including 2-4pm the next two Tuesdays, July 10 at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Rd., and July 17 at the Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez. See the full schedule, or give feedback online, at www.austintexas.gov/citystage.
Remember Butler Shores? There was going to be a soccer stadium there, for about five minutes earlier this year, but now that that idea has moved on to browner pastures (see "Countdown to a Deal," July 6), Parks & Rec has tabbed it as a likely spot to relocate the dilapidated, but beloved and well-used, Dougherty Arts Center. PARD says the DAC has been found "beyond repair ... a temporary structure meant to be razed in the 1970s," and Butler Shores fits a lot of the needs. If you like the idea or hate it, PARD is taking feedback through July 25 at www.austintexas.gov/dacproject.
Boring! The city Transportation Department will be doing a lot of boring work for the rest of the year along the nine transit corridors included in the Corridor Construction Program adopted by Austin City Council in April. Geotechnical boring, that is – taking soil and rock samples, to prepare for construction funded by the 2016 mobility bond ("Implementing the Mobility Bond and Corridor Construction Program, if You Can Wait for It," June 8). See more info, including construction updates, at www.austintexas.gov/corridormobility.