Public Notice: Start Your Engines

Council gearing up for land use discussions?

Public Notice: Start Your Engines

Austin City Council holds its first real meeting of the new year next Thursday, Jan. 31. It's also the first meeting for Council's two new members, and for a newly emboldened Mayor Steve Adler after his November re-election victory. And that's expected to be a big deal: This is supposed to be the Council That Gets Things Done – in particular on land use and the stalled-out land development code rewrite. (R.I.P. CodeNEXT.) Indeed, at the recent Austin FC/Major League Soccer celebration, Adler introduced incoming CM Natasha Harper-Madison as "cavalry" that "voters just sent us" (to ... well, kill the natives, I guess, but the metaphor kind of breaks down around there). Suffice to say, there's a lot of anticipation around this first meeting.

Ironic – and perhaps auspicious – then, that the first land use decision of the new era will be a highly technical resolution, co-sponsored by frequent dais opponents Leslie Pool and Alison Alter on the neighborhood side, and Jimmy Flannigan and Greg Casar on the density side, plus cavalrywoman Harper-Madison herself. The changes relate to "alternative equivalent compliance with front and street side upper-story building façade stepback development standards" in the North Burnet/Gateway Regulating Plan. That's seriously opaque and boring stuff, and hard to fit in a headline; but then, that's what zoning and building codes are. Not to read too much symbolism into a minor resolution, but it's good to see Council starting the year by finding something they can perhaps all agree on. They should be able to find more of those.

On the other hand, there's Item 51, the second and third readings of a proposal by the UT Law School Foundation to rezone two properties in the North Campus area from LR to GR, meaning from "neighborhood" to "community" retail. First reading was approved on Dec. 13 on a 6-4 vote, with CMs Alter, Houston, Pool, and Tovo opposed, and CM Renteria absent. If nothing has changed here but Harper-Madison replacing Houston in D1, that 6-4 will likely now be an 8-3, and possibly the first of many such.

(Meanwhile, seven of the 10 speakers at citizen communication will be there to talk about animal services issues.)


Council's surrogates over at the Planning Commission seemed to be in a holding pattern Tuesday night. With much of the agenda already tabbed for postponement, most of the evening was spent on two relatively minor zoning cases, and no one saw much point in revving up the arguments that will surely ensue when the code rewrite project starts up again. Even Commissioner Greg Anderson, while delivering his usual exasperated laments about how slowly Old Austin is getting torn down to make way for New Austin, ended each one with some variant of, "But I guess we'll just have to wait for now, and see what the city manager brings us."

For everyone who lived through the CodeNEXT slow-motion train wreck of the last four years, that has an ominously familiar ring to it. One of the primary ways that process failed was in the fits-and-starts pace of its stakeholder involvement and communication. Repeatedly, the code team took in a huge gulp of public input – from citizens, land use commissions, and interested parties such as the American Institute of Architects – then went into a black box to come up with an entirely new draft code, without ongoing collaboration with those stakeholders. In the end, they produced three successive first drafts – each with its merits, but each also flawed and incomplete – without reaching a second or third draft on any of them.

Now, we've taken all of the feedback from that massive debacle, given it to one man – City Manager Spencer Cronk, who's never done this sort of work before – and are waiting with bated breath for him to pull a rabbit out of yet another black box. So far, there's no public indication of what he's going to produce, or when. But it's important to remember that it's just going to be the starting point. He's tasked not with fixing the code, but with figuring out who should fix it and how.


Supporting Federal Workers

As we approach the second missed paycheck for furloughed federal workers, local labor groups and the Central Texas Food Bank are joining forces to collect food for those harmed by the government shutdown. You can drop canned goods and other nonperishable items at Texas AFL-CIO headquarters (1106 Lavaca #200) through this weekend: 9am-5pm Thursday and Friday, noon-4pm Saturday and Sunday.

And for the duration of the shutdown, your federal government employee ID lets you ride free on all Cap Metro services, including MetroRail and MetroAccess.

City of Austin Utilities is on board as well, postponing collection activities and disconnections for those who are affected by the shutdown and helping to match folks up with the Customer Assistance Programs available at www.austinenergy.com.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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