Public Notice: What Happens Next?

Public process will be key to whether code rewrite succeeds

Public Notice: What Happens Next?

City Council has only one item on their agenda for this week's special called meeting: discussing and passing their "final" instructions to city staff regarding the forthcoming reboot of the effort to write a new Land Development Code. But I put "final" in quotes there, because that will hardly be the last time Council gives direction on this, even before the next draft comes back to them for consideration in the fall. At least, we'd better hope that's the way it plays out, because staff will need to keep getting direction, and the community stakeholders – Council, city commissions, architects, builders, and, yes, citizens – will have to stay engaged in the process and get updates as it goes along, or as sure as history repeats itself, we're going to have a repeat this fall of the shitshow that ate up most of the last five years.

This might be a good place to note that the CodeNEXT "Draft 3" was really no such thing: It was much more like a third attempt at a first draft, with a lot of new concepts, new terminology, and new structure, changed from Draft 2, which was itself a complete change of direction from Draft 1. Given all of the structural problems everyone had with Draft 3, it seems likely that the drafters will now have to rebuild an entirely new Draft 4, if they are to carry out the prime directive that the code be simple and user-friendly – Draft 3 was roundly panned on all sides for being overly complex, overly prescriptive, contradictory in points, and inflexible in others. (And bear in mind here that I'm talking just about the text, definitions, and terminology, which have to be set before we even start discussing policy issues such as density, compatibility, transitions, etc. You have to decide what language you're trying to write this thing in before you can debate which adjectives you're going to use.)

So Council may have hamstrung the drafters moving forward, by their firm insistence last week that staff use Draft 3 as the starting point for the new effort. One hopes that staff will take that direction in the spirit it was likely intended: in reference to the general mapping philosophy, and not necessarily the language, structure, and specific provisions.

But the real problem underlying the CodeNEXT slow-rolling train wreck was the drafting timeline and the review deadlines: Three different times, the drafters retreated into a black box for many months at a time, then brought forth a new product, neither tested by stakeholders nor run through forecasting scenarios, and Council demanded up-or-down decisions without allowing time to complete that testing. So it is troubling at best to now see that process being set up to play out that way again, as Council prepares to send staff away – this time without any extra consultant budget, it seems, or the forecasting and scenario testing it paid for – to prepare a new draft, which stakeholders may not get a glimpse of until sometime in the fall, but which Council intends to take final votes on before the end of the year.

Yes, we have seen this before, but it doesn't have to be that way. Council, today, will give staff policy direction on the questions City Manager Spencer Cronk requested. But it should also insist that he answer the question they asked of him six months ago: What is the drafting process going to be moving forward? Are stakeholders – perhaps most directly Planning Commis­sion and other city boards – going to get to see what's in the works this time around, and have a mechanism to have their input heard? And without the consultants who provided most of the data, how do planners intend to test the effects of what they're doing? Those are questions worth asking; if we don't get answers today, we could be in for a rough winter.

'Tis the Season

The Shoal Creek Social, Shoal Creek Conservancy's annual fundraising party, is this Tuesday, May 7, 6-8pm at Austin Central Library, right on the creek. Open bar, live music, snacks from local restaurants, "a mystery book pull (thanks UT Press!)," and more. Tickets are $150 at

Then hop over to Antone's for the Clifford Antone Foundation's Spring Members Event, starting at 7pm Tue., May 7, with Jimmie Vaughan and Angela Strehli burning down the house. Like the name says, it's a members-only event, so see for info on joining to help CAF's mission to "honor the past; invest in the future."

The AIA Austin 2019 Awards Celebration is Thu., May 9, 6pm at Fair Market, 1100 E. Fifth, honoring the winners of the architects society's annual Honor Awards and Design Awards competition – "celebrating excellence in design while enjoying pop-up lounges, food trucks, cocktails, music, and other surprises." 6pm cocktails, 7pm awards, 8:30 afterparty. Tickets are $30-35 at

Meanwhile, Parks

Our Parks, Our Future 2018-2028 is the title of the Austin Parks & Recreation Department's 10-year plan for parks, facilities, and recreational programming, which PARD will adopt later this year. They're holding a second round of public open houses next week, before writing a final draft in June.

Thu., May 2, 6-8pm, South Austin Senior Activity Center, 3911 Manchaca Rd.

Fri., May 3, 6:30-8:30pm, Anderson Mill Limited District Community Center, 11500 El Salido Pkwy.

Sat., May 4, 10am-noon, Circle C Community Center, 7817 La Crosse

Sat., May 4, 2-4pm, IBPS Buddhist Temple, 6720 Capital of TX Hwy. N.

Sat., May 4, 6-8pm, Austin Recreation Center, 301 Shoal Creek Blvd.

Get more info, including links to the first open house presentation, at

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