Public Notice: Consensus? Conschmensus.
Majority rules ... absolutely
So the Land Development Code draft passed on second reading last week, with the 7-4 split on Council more bitterly divided than ever, the majority seeming utterly uninterested in trying to find consensus solutions, but the minority promising to introduce a plan in the next several weeks that "will offer a path to build broader, citywide consensus on the code" (see "Code Compromise?").
Most pointedly, multiple neighborhood groups, along with the four dissenting council members, want the opportunity to do small- area planning that they insist could accommodate as much or more new housing than is projected under the current mapping draft, without the disruption, displacement, and cost inflation that they see happening under that draft. After years of waiting for the opportunity to do that planning, with constant assurances that the time would come further along in the process, those groups are still waiting, even now, for staff to lay out a process for that work to be considered. That was, once again, a repeated promise last week from Mayor Steve Adler and others in the Council majority: that staff will define that process – what such a plan ought to include, what it should achieve, how it will be evaluated – in time for consideration before the code's final reading.
Neighbors around Duval, for instance, look at the broad upzonings along that corridor – which staff was directed to map, even though they're projected to produce virtually no new housing – and claim they can produce a better plan. It's easy to imagine they might be right about that, but again, how are they to go about it? What do staff (or Council) want to see in an alternate plan? Are there metrics to be met? A format to be submitted in? Tools to be used?
Those are not new questions. The same people, including the same CMs, have been asking for the opportunity to do that work for as long as this process has been going on. And yet Council keeps kicking that can down the road. And now, after eight years of stalling, it appears the time is coming: City staff have promised to define a process to receive and consider alternative mapping ideas; and if all goes well, neighborhood and citizen groups will have as much as three weeks to produce and test their alternative plans, and have staff evaluate them, before the whole thing comes back for a final up-or-down Council vote. And this, believe it or not, is progress!(?)
Meanwhile, in a planning project that may dwarf even the LDC in scope and impact, TxDOT is again advancing plans to rebuild Interstate 35 through Central Austin. The Downtown Austin Alliance, trying as much as possible to get ahead of this process and to have local priorities included in the discussion, has engaged the Urban Land Institute to do a study of potential alternatives for I-35, "including removing the upper decks and lowering the highway between Airport Boulevard and Cesar Chavez." The ULI team will be in town all next week, doing site tours and stakeholder interviews, then deliberating for two days before presenting its preliminary recommendations next Friday, Feb. 28, at 8am at the King Seabrook Chapel at Huston-Tillotson University. (The final report will be completed in late 2020.) To register, visit i35.eventbrite.com.