Public Notice: Two Steps Forward ...
A year ago, the last CodeNEXT draft was "unworkable." What's changed?
When we last saw Draft 3 of CodeNEXT, it was being excoriated as poorly drafted and organized, more complex and harder to use than the current code, and full of ambiguities, contradictions, and unintended consequences: a bad product, no matter what one might think about density, parking, compatibility, or other policy questions. A code that Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver – hardly an obstructionist on the code rewrite – called "a failed starting point ... a half-baked solution that's unworkable. It's just not." Now it's being held up as the "baseline" that City Council wants for its new code rewrite (with a vote on Council direction to staff expected next Thursday; see "City Council Returns to Land Use Code Conversation," Apr. 19).
CodeNEXT was supposed to further two goals. It was supposed to produce a simpler, easier to use code, and to save time and money for developers and builders (and hence their customers), businesses, and citizens. It was also supposed to serve two social goals, both enshrined in Imagine Austin but often at odds with each other: First, to create "a compact and connected city" – more walkable, more transit-friendly, and more racially and socioeconomically integrated – and second, to "avoid endangering the existing character of neighborhoods" and protect their residents from the gentrification and displacement that have befallen the largely minority Eastside communities.
Notably, the extant draft doesn't do much for the first goal. It's not really any simpler or more user-friendly than the current code, though some procedures sections were streamlined in developers' favor, and "several barriers to public participation have been added in scattered sections," as the League of Women Voters lamented. As for the second goal, well, the jury's still out on that, because while Council has now given some good, long-overdue policy direction to staff, there's not yet any real indication of how the inherent tension between Imagine Austin's twin imperatives will be worked out.
So Council and the public can sit back after next Thursday and think, "Job well done, now let's leave the experts to work out the details." But that's exactly what everyone thought back when Imagine Austin was adopted in 2012. Now – seven years, $8.2 million in outside consultants, and three failed drafts later – we're back at that exact same starting point, with the same city staff (plus a valuable free agent transfer in Brent Lloyd, moving over from the legal department) overseen by a city manager who's never done this before.
One thing that could break the cycle is some direction from Council that City Manager Spencer Cronk define his progress on the job he was tasked with six months ago: "to develop and propose a new process leading to a Land Development Code that achieves the stated goals of the City." This latest round of policy directives from Council depends on balancing a number of interests, using calculations and tools that have not yet been defined. It would be fair for Council to ask again that Cronk "propose [the] process" by which he's going to 1) draft the code, and 2) mediate conflicting interests in the mapping.
And while we're on the topic of missing directives, as the "Affordability Unlocked" initiative works its way toward being an actual ordinance – perhaps also next Thursday – this would be a great time for Council to make provisions for the increased and diversified workload that'll flow from this ordinance and the code changes. The city is poised to make a large investment in affordable housing – in time, money, and setting the plate for public and private development initiatives – yet hasn't suggested any planning for how that inventory will be tracked and managed. That's already an issue; it's been a repeated theme in the Strategic Housing Blueprint Implementation Plan and other city documents that the city needs "a 'real-time' database of available affordable housing units, services, resources, and incentives," as the SHBIP put it. That need is only exacerbated the more successful we are in creating the affordable housing we all want.
The Guadalupe Corridor Plan is a go! Construction will begin in May and should take 4-5 months to largely rebuild the intersections where Guadalupe and Lavaca meet 18th and MLK – the first steps in the overall Guadalupe Corridor Plan and "the first official project to be implemented as part of the Corridor Construction Program that is funded by the 2016 Mobility Bond." Austin Transportation, Capital Metro, and the Corridor Program Office are hosting an open house to explain the plan Tuesday, April 23, 4:30-6:30pm at Cambridge Tower, 1801 Lavaca.
The 6th Annual Armadillo Awards Party, aka "the indie biz party of the year," to celebrate the Austin Independent Business Alliance is next Thu., April 25, at Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th; doors open at 5:30, show starts at 7pm. The party is free, but RSVP at www.ibuyaustin.com/events.
Tickets are still on sale for the 15th Annual Austin Humane Society Car Raffle and a chance to win a new Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Convertible, provided by Roger Beasley Mazda. Tickets are $20 each and, starting today until they're sold out, it's BOGO – buy one get one free – and all proceeds benefit AHS. The winner will be announced at noon on May 4 at the dealership.
Austin PARD's Aquatic Division offers swim lessons for all ages and skill levels at 20 sites across the city. Sessions meet Mon.-Fri. for two weeks, except as otherwise noted. Registration is now open for all summer sessions at www.austintexas.gov/parksonline, or at the PARD Aquatic Office. The fee is $57 for residents and $66 for non-residents. Financial aid is available; see www.austintexas.gov/pardfinaid.
PARD is also hiring teachers for those lessons, as well as lifeguards, pool cashiers, and other positions; see www.lifeguardaustin.com, or go to one of their hiring days: Fri., April 19, 8am-6pm at PARD Aquatic Office, 2818 San Gabriel St., or Sat., April 20, 11am-1pm at Givens Rec Center, 3811 E. 12th, and 2-4pm at Turner-Roberts Rec Center, 7201 Colony Loop Dr.