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Friday, October 28, 2016 by Joseph Caterine
‘Train wreck’: Planning Commission discusses CodeNEXT
A working group of the Planning Commission had only negative things to report at the commission’s Oct. 25 meeting after analyzing the final prescription paper for CodeNEXT, the city’s overhaul of the Land Development Code. The paper, which addresses fiscal health, had been presented at the commission’s Oct. 11 meeting.
Commissioner Angela Piñeyro De Hoyos told the commission that the working group did not have as much time as it would have liked to study the paper in depth; however, from what they did see, members felt discouraged. “Like the other prescription papers, there was an astonishing lack of details,” she said. “It was like a very unsatisfying teaser trailer for a new movie.”
She cited the paper’s recommendation to use public-private partnerships to build and maintain the city’s infrastructure, saying it did not provide details as to what those partnerships would actually look like.
The prescription papers compare the CodeNEXT plan to city code from the 1980s, almost as a way of making the proposals seem more innovative than they actually are, according to Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson. “It’s an inaccurate comparison to what we have now,” he said.
“There were a lot of feel-good proposals,” Commissioner Michael Wilson said. “But when reality hits, it will be nasty. I, myself, see a train wreck.”
One of the main concerns discussed was the inability of the Planning Commission, or the public for that matter, to trace the code changes from the current code to the new draft code to be released in January.
“This body needs to continue to speak to city staff to ensure that we can track these changes,” said Chair Stephen Oliver.
The salt in the wound, so to speak, was the absence of any CodeNEXT project team members at the Oct. 25 meeting. Oliver said that without someone available for the commission’s questions, it did not feel like the seamless process that was promised. “It’s disappointing,” he said.
On the bright side, Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza said she was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the joint meeting between the CodeNEXT Advisory Group and City Council on Oct. 19. She said that some advisory group members were “taken aback” that the Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission would be taking part in the review process upon the draft’s release in January. Although there won’t be too many opportunities to weigh in, she said, “what we do have to say will be listened to.”
Commissioner Trinity White asked if there was a way for the commission to “have more teeth” in scheduling the review on their terms as opposed to just nagging the CodeNEXT team with emails.
Oliver said that he plans to speak to CodeNEXT representatives before the next Planning Commission meeting on Nov. 8. “We need to talk about how to adjust our schedule so that we’re not looking at code at 11 p.m.,” he said.
“I totally agree,” said Commissioner Tom Nuckols. “It’s up to us to decide what’s on our agenda.”
The commission wrapped up the item with the intention of setting its schedule to review the draft code before the end of the year and making its limited input count.
Photo from the CodeNEXT prescription paper on fiscal health.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.
CodeNEXT: CodeNEXT is the name given to the land development code rewrite process undertaken in the early 2010s by the City of Austin.