Wednesday, June 8, 2016 by Jo Clifton

CodeNEXT leader: City adding costs to code rewrite

The chair of the citizens group advising the city of Austin on the rewrite of the city’s land-use regulations has voiced concerns that the contract for the project, known as CodeNEXT, is being used as a “mothership on which to attach riders for other studies or plans.”

Jim Duncan, former director of planning for the city and an expert on transportation impact fees, wrote in an email to his colleagues that he had asked for and received a copy of a February amendment to the CodeNEXT contract with Opticos Design Inc., the city’s consultant on the project.

The contract amendment was for nearly $243,000 and was not for the rewrite of land-use regulations, but instead is being used for a citywide transportation plan to be developed by the transportation planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc.

As Duncan put it, “Our CodeNEXT consultant, Opticos, was only being used as a front or pass-through firm and receiving about 10 percent of the contract.”

According to a copy of the contract amendment, which represents the sixth amendment to the Opticos contract, Opticos has received or will receive $33,610 and Kimley-Horn will receive nearly $199,000. A subcontractor named Diane Miller will receive $10,115 for public outreach, according to the document.

“When I asked staff why it was being processed as a CodeNEXT rider,” Duncan wrote, “their justification was that transportation was related to the code. … Under that rationale, you can do a study or plan for just about anything, including housing, parks, libraries, water, sewer, etc. and charge it to CodeNEXT.”

Duncan said he was concerned that the cost for CodeNEXT, already more than $2.2 million, would look even worse than it actually was and that “this could be interpreted as an end run by (the) Transportation (Department) to avoid established outreach and procurement procedures in giving a contract to a favored firm.”

Jim Robertson, the current CodeNEXT project manager, could not be reached for comment. Robertson, who wears several other hats in the Planning and Zoning Department, took over as project manager when Matt Lewis was placed on administrative leave in April for reasons that have not been made public.

Duncan said that Transportation Director Robert Spillar had asked City Council last fall “for $250,000 to prepare the same study, as part of the $2 million impact fee (analysis and planning) package.” Duncan noted that his former firm provided impact fee services and that $2 million “was an obscene and unnecessary total amount for impact fee services.” He added, “My former firm has prepared many similar such studies for many major cities for much less than $400,000.”

He continued, “I also knew then that the Transportation Department must have Kimley-Horn in mind for that contract because they openly referred to their work in Fort Worth as what they were looking for and used an RFP workplan suspiciously” similar to what Kimley-Horn used for Fort Worth.

A new item to award Kimley-Horn a contract for $1.175 million — slightly less than the original $2 million that was proposed — to provide engineering services and financial analyses, as well as organize public hearings for the city street impact fee project, is on this Thursday’s agenda. Council Member Leslie Pool told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday that she intends to pull the item and ask for a postponement to try to get more information.

In order to enact street impact fees — that is, fees imposed by local governments and paid for by residents to cover the costs of providing public services to new developments — the city is required to do an analysis and write a new ordinance establishing the fees. According to material describing the services, information developed by Kimley-Horn will be used in developing the impact fee program and to help determine what will be in a capital improvement plan to be funded by the street impact fees.

Duncan objects not just to the price tag on the study but also the selection of Kimley-Horn as opposed to the second bidder, Freese and Nichols Inc.

Photo by Pen Waggener (Flickr: Economic Landscape) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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

Planning and Zoning Department: Planning, preservation and design services are under the purview of this department.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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