Wednesday, January 18, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Outdated CodeNEXT draft sets folks aTwitter

The unauthorized release this weekend of a preliminary draft version of the Land Development Code’s next iteration, known as CodeNEXT, via Twitter, started a round of finger-pointing but no conclusive evidence as to the source of the leak.

However, the release and reactions to it demonstrated heightened tensions over what the code may ultimately mean for Austin neighborhoods and hostility between those who support greater density and those who see it as a threat to their neighborhoods.

The Austin Neighborhoods Council has asked repeatedly since last year for release of parts of the code, but the city and its consultant, Opticos Design, have strenuously resisted.

CodeNEXT is scheduled to be released on Jan. 30, with a dizzying schedule of meetings throughout the 10 City Council districts to explain its impact and possibilities.

The leaked version, which the city calls outdated and preliminary, was released on a Twitter account with the handle @arboratx. Friends of Austin Neighborhoods’ Roger L. Cauvin accused neighborhood activist Mike Lavigne of being the leaker on Twitter. Lavigne is associated with the Arbor Political Action Committee, which was instrumental in unseating former Council Member Sheri Gallo.

Lavigne vehemently denied having anything to do with the release or the Twitter account. In an email to the Austin Monitor, Lavigne wrote, “So in essence an anonymous account posted old papers and Roger Cauvin blames me? That’s comedy. He’s a fool if he thinks that’s my style.”

According to Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department, about two dozen city employees from different departments had copies of that document last summer when it was current. He said they were careful not to send copies of the preliminary new code via email, but “obviously several people had hard copies that we had to work off of. … (I)t appeared that someone scanned it. We’re not going to spend too much time trying to figure out who it is. We’re too busy trying to get the real one out on time.”

A press release from the department said, “After the January release, we will have several months of public engagement and comment before the Code is revised and presented to the land use commissions and City Council for final approval.

“We are currently putting the finishing touches on the draft, aligning standards and priorities across City departments, ensuring alignment with Imagine Austin, and incorporating feedback from the CodeNEXT Prescriptions and other sources.”

Mary Ingle, former ANC president, noted that the group has been asking for some time that sections of the code be released, but the city has refused. She expressed suspicion about what the new code would do to neighborhoods.

Ingle said the ANC would be comparing the draft that was released via Twitter with the official version when it comes out.

Rusthoven said, “That version is from last June, when we got it from the consultant, and we’ve spent a half a year since then saying ‘no’ to this, ‘yes’ to this. It’s probably not worth spending too much time reading, because the one coming out at the end of the month is different – but not entirely different.”

The city’s press release concluded, “We are excited to engage the Austin community once the draft Code is released at the end of this month. The draft Code public release event will be held on Wednesday, February 1 at the Palmer Events Center, and will be the first of many public meetings to discuss the new code.”

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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.

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