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Monday, November 24, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Land Development Code rewrite marches forward

A once-divided City Council got behind a compromise Thursday on how the city will approach the Land Development Code rewrite.

Council Member Bill Spelman said the decision had been “clouded” by its framing, which had turned the choice between approaches “symbolic and political.”

“We all kind of lost sight of the fact that what we were really talking about was the scope of work for a particular contract,” said Spelman.

Spelman was absent the last time CodeNEXT was discussed by Council members. This time, he came prepared with a compromise designed to soften the distinction between Approaches 2 and 3.

Council voted to approve his proposition, which was Approach 2, with amendments designed to create a plan that was somewhere between Approach 2 and Approach 3. Council members voted 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting in opposition.

Leffingwell said that he was in favor of taking a more dramatic approach and “doing a complete code rewrite.”

Approach 2 has been described as a “deep clean and reset.”

Spelman added an amendment stating that whenever the consultants, Opticos Design, had to make a decision on how extensively they were going to rewrite existing code, they should “err on the side of being extensive.”

“The reason they should err on the side of being extensive is because it is easier for all of us — meaning city staff, citizens and the future City Council — to move it back to where it was,” said Spelman, who added that the same philosophy should apply to “by right” revisions, which would be easier to back away from than establish.

Council Member Laura Morrison added a provision that asked the rewrite to focus on “green infrastructure and sustainable water management” and seek input from the landscape architecture community.

She also asked that the consultants present their decisions on where the code would be more extensively rewritten to the new Council. That presentation is expected to take place in March.

The second amendment changed the process of how form-based code would be applied. The first stage will be the same as it would have been under Approach 2. The consultants will find a small number of neighborhoods and activity centers and apply form-based code there. The second stage, proposed by Spelman, would allow Opticos to serve as consultants to city staff, who would be responsible for applying form-based code to additional neighborhoods. The third stage will be an opportunity for Opticos to evaluate staff’s application of form-based code, and provide advice or extra training if it is needed.

Spelman pointed out that Opticos Design is being asked to create a draft of the land development code, which would then be evaluated by the public, the city’s boards and commissions, and the incoming Council.

“We are going to have lots of opportunities to talk about that when it comes back,” said Spelman.

Spelman said the question was not whether the code should be completely made over — just whether Opticos should be responsible for the entirety of the makeover. He explained that a lot of the work that needs to be done is revamping current code into form-based code. With that understanding, he said Approach 3 — which is the most intense strategy — was not a good idea, because circumstances (and the Land Development Code) would continue to change.

Instead, he proposed to prepare for that inevitable flux. Opticos should do some of the work on the code, and some of the work training staff.

Though Spelman said that Opticos should not feel restrained when rewriting parts of the code that need extensive revision, he did clarify to Council Member Kathie Tovo that form-based code rewrites would still apply to “interested neighborhoods.”

“I’m not talking about foisting form-based code on an unhappy neighborhood,” said Spelman.

 

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

CodeNEXT: CodeNEXT is the name given to the land development code rewrite process undertaken in the early 2010s by the City of Austin.

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