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Coalition asks to keep CodeNEXT on track

Thursday, June 16, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

A coalition of eight Austin organizations got together to ask the city to honor a January 2017 deadline for the new land development code draft on Wednesday.

Pointing out that four years have passed since the rewrite was laid out in the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, representatives from AURA, the Austin Apartment Association, the Austin Board of Realtors, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Austin Alliance, Evolve Austin, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin and the Real Estate Council of Austin all stressed that it was time for the CodeNEXT process to get back on track.

“Today, the project is two years behind schedule, hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget and in jeopardy of collapsing under its own weight,” said RECA president Ward Tisdale.

Tisdale spoke to the Austin Monitor after the press conference and explained, “The plan was done four years ago today. It’s all there. There’s really no need to have all these other exercises — the prescription papers, for example. Are they valid? Sure, but there’s no need to reopen it. We have a plan, (so let’s) execute it. … There’s no need to create this kind of extra work.”

Many of those who spoke in favor of sticking to the January deadline hit hard on the message of affordability, noting that under the current land development code, cumbersome processes and lack of development options can cause housing costs to soar.

Lonny Stern, who is with Evolve Austin, explained why his group had joined the coalition after the press conference.

“It was important to put this into context. A lot of times when you talk about land development, people think ‘developers,’ when actually they should think about what the shape of our city is going to be in the next 10 to 20 years,” said Stern. “I’m a rabid Austinite. I’ve lived here since 1999. I intend to stay here all the way through to the end. … It always feels like we are on the cusp of becoming a city, and that takes a lot of people making decisions that shape what the future looks like.”

Along with the request to stick firm to the January deadline, the coalition also asked that the new code incentivize the construction of below-market housing, provide options for more missing middle housing “with limited or no specific regulations as to quantity, density or lot and unit sizes,” revisit compatibility standards in favor of density and employ metrics-based planning tools as a way to gauge “real-life impacts from major code proposals.”

“It’s a wild time in our city’s history,” said Austin Neighborhoods Council President Mary Ingle, who added that releasing the draft in January “is not acceptable.” She pushed, instead, for an earlier release of the draft.

“They need to release something now, so people can see what they are doing. Because all the consultants have ever done is talk in jargon, and the staff has given us nothing concrete to chew on,” said Ingle. “This is a waste of time. People want to see something concrete, and I think Ward and I could agree that the prescription papers are really ridiculous.”

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