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Committee studies expanding CodeNEXT group

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

At its first meeting Tuesday, the Planning and Neighborhoods Committee dove into the ongoing rewrite of the Land Development Code and looked at a recent push to add more members to the CodeNEXT Advisory Group.

Specifically, the committee considered a proposal from Mayor Steve Adler to add more members in order to increase representation. Whom those members should be, as it turns out, is a matter of some debate.

The Land Development Code Advisory Group is composed of 11 members. The former City Council appointed seven members, and the city manager appointed four. Though the group is scheduled to dissolve in September, Council is taking seriously concerns that facets of the community are not represented. On Tuesday, committee members heard from advisory committee members and the community about who, exactly, is missing.

One of the things they are considering is how many members, if any, Council should add to the group. However, the original proposition was to add two people; District 2, District 3, District 4 and District 7 are not represented at all.

Del Valle resident Patricia King said she was concerned that there was no District 2 representation on the advisory group.

“I understand these appointments were made before 10-1 representation. However, it’s not too late to right a wrong,” said King. “The need for diversity is obvious. I do not want someone from District 8, 9 or 10 making Land Development Code changes without my district being represented and having some kind of say-so.

“It seems almost discriminatory to me,” King continued.

There is also the issue of ideological representation. Those who spoke in favor of expanding the group suggested adopting an environmentalist (with a background in water issues), a representative from the Austin Neighborhoods Council, a renter and a person of color.

Jeff Jack, who is a member of the advisory group, asked for an economist. Jim Duncan, who is also a member, asked for “someone who has hammered a nail and built a home,” suggesting a developer join the group. Duncan was one of the few to come prepared with names, and asked that Council consider appointing Brad Rockwell and Ed Wendler Jr.

There were many suggestions, but most of the discussion and debate centered on whether a member of the Austin Neighborhoods Council should join the group.

ANC President Mary Ingle said that her organization was advocating an expansion of the group “for balance and fairness.” She asked that additional representation include residents of East Austin, a member of ANC and someone who understood water issues.

“We’ve attended every meeting, so we know what’s going on there,” said Ingle. “We do feel that there is an imbalance and there are things that need to be corrected.”

Real estate agent Frank Herran asked ANC to stay out of the advisory group, saying there has been “lots and lots and lots of neighborhood input since the beginning of this process.” He emphasized that the CodeNEXT process was a time to implement — not debate — the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

Council Member Sheri Gallo said that Jack, a former president of ANC, was a de facto neighborhood representative and pointed out that not all neighborhood associations in Austin were part of ANC’s membership. Both Jack and ANC members took umbrage with those statements. Jack immediately clarified that he has not been president for 20 years.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo emphasized the need to build trust with the community, and suggested that including ANC in the process more formally could be a way to do that. She also discussed their inclusion on a practical level.

“I certainly think that it’s true that not every neighborhood association is active in the Austin Neighborhoods Council,” said Tovo. “But an organization that has membership from every part of Austin and 81 membership groups does provide those fingers into the community that I think are very important.”

Though the discussion revealed that there is at least some consensus on where the gaps in representation are, an immediate solution remained wanting at the close of the meeting. Council Member Greg Casar, who chairs the committee, said that it would consider making a recommendation at its April 30 meeting.



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