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Future LDC amendments may get Opticos review

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Though City Council will likely select a CodeNEXT approach Thursday, it will also consider a resolution designed to ensure that any interim Land Development Code changes are consistent with the goals of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

That resolution, which Council discussed at its work session Tuesday, would direct the city manager to work with lead CodeNEXT consultant Opticos Design on any amendments that the Council or Planning Commission may initiate before the new code is in place.

Planning and Development Review Assistant Director George Adams said that the resolution, if adopted, would not require that the city alter its existing contract with Opticos or increase its budget.

“I think this is something we can handle within our existing scope, and we have been doing that somewhat informally with some of the amendments that have been initiated over the last few months,” Adams said. “Not having this type of direction, it’s been a little more focused in some cases than others.”

CodeNEXT is a comprehensive overhaul of the code. When Council considered how to go forward with the process at its last meeting, members were evenly split between the middle-of-the-road approach and the more involved approach, with Council Member Spelman absent.

Council Member Chris Riley, who sponsored the resolution, said that it should help streamline any code amendments that Council makes before the CodeNEXT process is complete.

“The idea behind this item is that, as we go about considering such code amendments, we would be able to enlist the help of the experts who are working on the CodeNEXT process … so that we can ensure the amendments are aligned with the goals of the whole process,” Riley said.

Riley added that the CodeNEXT process could be lengthy, and that he hopes the resolution will help Council make incremental progress in the right direction, rather than waiting until the overhaul is complete to address certain issues that arise. “We do have some urgent housing needs now,” he said.

Opticos Design Principal Daniel Parolek said at a previous Council meeting that his company hopes to adopt a new code draft in 2016, though that time could be extended if the city opts for the more comprehensive approach.

Council Member Laura Morrison, who pulled the item for discussion, said that she spoke with representatives from Opticos about certain potential code amendments before Council began considering the different CodeNEXT approach alternatives.

“I did get comments from them on some of the items that are on our schedule before the end of the year,” Morrison said. “From my perspective, they’re in conflict with where we would be heading in some ways, so it might be that we just need to pull those things in.”

Morrison later told the Monitor that she is likely to support the resolution and concerned about potential code changes related to microunits and accessory dwelling units.

The microunits ordinance would remove obstacles in the code that make it difficult for developers to build multifamily units that are 500 square feet or less, otherwise known as microunits. This item is scheduled for Thursday’s Council meeting.

The accessory dwelling unit ordinance would amend code to make it easier for property owners to construct relatively small one- or two-story living units — also known as granny flats — on a property that already has a principal structure on it.

The Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee heard the item Tuesday. Though the item must go back to the Planning Commission before it reaches Council, Morrison said she believes that Council is likely hear the item at its Dec. 11 meeting — the current Council’s final meeting.

The microunits draft ordinance allows for units that meet certain affordability requirements to have zero parking requirements. Morrison said that Opticos suggested establishing parking limits rather than removing parking requirements as “a way to work productively toward less surface parking lots and less parking.”

“If we were working through the CodeNEXT process, integrating it with the Opticos thinking, it would be more about, should we put some maximum parking in place?” Morrison said.

Morrison said that the accessory dwelling units ordinance does not, in her view, align with Opticos’ suggestions. “We really need to refine our neighborhood design tools and infill options, and this is basically laying an infill option across the whole city in a very specific way.”

Infill refers to converting or filling in existing land in urban areas — for example, constructing an additional dwelling unit in the backyard of an existing structuring — rather than building around the borders of cities.

Morrison added that accessory dwelling units are not necessarily affordable, and she has heard complaints from neighborhoods that have integrated them saying that they were “a bunch of expensive apartments in the back of a house.”

“Those are things that I think really, if we’re going to be thinking about integrating this, those two things need to be done,” Morrison said.


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