Public Notice: The Planning Stages
Land use commissioners, public swing into action on the LDC
By Nick Barbaro, Fri., Oct. 25, 2019
It's been a busy week for those pondering the Land Development Code rewrite – city staff, politicos, the general public. Everyone's starting to kick the tires and poke under the hood on this new draft code, and feedback has started to come in. Whether it needs a tune up or a major overhaul remains to be seen; for now, people are still finding all the hidden features, trying to figure out how to move the seat forward and whether it's a good thing that there's Bluetooth but no radio …
Okay, I went a little too far with that metaphor, but the point is there's a lot here that's really new, and the drafters are trying to identify any bugs, holes, or unforeseen consequences. That was the gist of last Friday's Public Testing event at City Hall, where staff set up different rooms for different zoning categories – single-family, mixed-use, transition areas – and showed a few things that could be built under the new code and invited public input. It was a great start and seemed useful for both attendees – mostly professionals and "stakeholders" – and staff, who took lots of notes. Having said that, the scenarios on view were intended to show the "typical uses" staff envisions in each area. Which typically is fine. But people who build things may want to push the boundaries of the various envelopes that make up a zoning code; indeed, a crucial function of that code is to define where those boundaries are. Since none of the modeled scenarios pushed the draft code's parameters for impervious cover, setbacks, height, or other touchy subjects, it's hard to tell what the real effects on the ground might be, or if those parameters is too strict or too lenient. Various private architects and planners are doing their own modeling – some of which was also shared at Friday's event – but a lot more work needs to be done.
Some of that is being done at Planning Commission, which laid out some of its own findings this week. On Tuesday evening (Oct. 22), commissioners heard public testimony, reported on the work of their subcommittees, and got into some good back-and-forth with top staff about both major priorities and nitty-gritty details.
One telling moment came fairly late, after a lot of discussion on how it's really hard to incentivize the market to produce affordable housing, no matter what zoning tools you throw at the problem. Given that – and given that planning tools can be more effective at saving existing housing – Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido asked staff: Why does the draft code not make more effort to preserve the stock of market-affordable housing that's currently at risk of gentrification in East and Central Austin?
At first, there was dead silence. Then, Housing Planning & Policy Manager Erica Leak started out, tentatively at first: "It was based on the Council criteria of how they said to map the transition zones, but [pause] …
"I think one thing that Planning Commission may very well want to consider is that the criteria resulted in more areas in Central and especially East Austin that had a lot of corridors. So even though those corridors were mapped with fewer parcels [than in less vulnerable areas] … it ends up covering what looks like at least a larger percentage of that area.
So it is a very good question for Planning Commission to consider [if] there [is] an equitable dispersion of those transition areas in different parts of town. So if we look at what percentage of the map in vulnerable areas is covered by transition areas and what portion of the map in the high opportunity areas is covered in transition areas, I think that would be something that this group should consider. And it didn't turn out that way because of the Council criteria, but it may be that it wasn't clear what that would result in, and so perhaps there needs to be further direction on that matter."
That's your head of housing policy saying, as tactfully as she can, "We did exactly what you asked, but we could get better results if you'd reconsider a few things."
The PC continues its slog this Saturday at 9am with their one public hearing before making final(?) recommendations to City Council; see "Austin's Land Development Code Schedule Takes Shape" details.
The 2019 Austin Green Awards will be held next Wednesday, Oct. 30, "to highlight a next generation of sustainably inspired best practices." For more info, go to www.atxgreenawards.org.
"The Power of Stories" is this year's theme for the Lilith Fund's annual Reproductive Justice Awards, this Friday, Oct. 25, 6:30-8:30pm at the Motion Media Arts Center, 2200 Tillery, honoring Sheryl Cole, the Afiya Center, and keynote speaker Renee Bracey Sherman. See www.lilithfund.org/events for info and tickets ($25+).
Día de los Muertos comes early this year. Mexic-Arte Museum's Viva la Vida 36th Annual Festival & Parade is this Saturday, Oct. 26, with the Grand Procession noon-1pm along Sixth Street from Red River to the festival site in the 100-200 blocks of East and West Fourth, where there'll be art, food, lowriders, music, altars, and more all day until 6pm.
And Saturday is also National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Celebrate! Visit www.dea.gov to find a drop-off site near you.
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