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CodeNEXT consultants respond to accusations of dividing city

Thursday, March 23, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Two weeks after the Zoning and Platting Commission passed a resolution stating that the CodeNEXT draft text “provides two very different, separate codes,” the CodeNEXT consultants reassured commissioners during the joint land use work session Tuesday night that the draft does in fact propose only one code.

The draft has two different types of zoning categories: the form-based transect districts and the use-based non-transect districts. Although it will be unclear exactly how these districts will be arranged across the city until the CodeNEXT mapping is released on April 18, the draft text implies that transect zoning will apply to more urban areas whereas the non-transect zoning will apply to suburban and rural areas.

“On our first pass we tried to tailor the way information was presented,” John Miki with Opticos Design said at the meeting, “but we’ve heard the concern.”

In its resolution, the Zoning and Platting Commission called for a “cohesive, unified, electronic code that can be used throughout the city” in anticipation of two distinct zoning strategies further segregating Austin.

Miki said that the CodeNEXT team was open to renaming and reformatting the current draft to make the information less divisive.

Planning Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza took that solution to be a deflection from what she felt was the real issue. “In my mind (the problem is not) how we structure the content of the code,” she said, “it’s what are the drawbacks of (having) two codes?”

Consultant Peter Park reiterated that the draft did present only one code with two different zoning techniques.

“If at some point Austin wanted to have one tool or one technique, what would that entail?” Zaragoza asked.

Consultant Lisa Wise clarified that to move towards a completely form-based code, the city would have to enact some sort of policy change. That’s beyond the purview of the CodeNEXT team, she said, which follows the Imagine Austin guidelines.

“Maintaining some use-based zoning really just reflects the reality on the ground,” Wise said. “We’re not intending that to guide future development. It’s just a necessary tool at this point in time in (the city’s) evolution.”

Zoning and Platting Interim Chair Jolene Kiolbassa said that the difference in parking requirements between transect and non-transect districts would condemn certain parts of the city to be auto-centric for the foreseeable future. “That’s why I would like to see less of a difference between transect and non-transects,” she said.

Outside of how the code would impact the city on the ground, Planning Commissioner James Shieh questioned how having two zoning techniques could affect the land use commissions themselves. “(Will) you have Zoning and Platting doing the areas that are going to be non-transect, and Planning Commission (doing) transect?” he asked.

Miki clarified the draft does not change the domains of the commissions. “The boundaries of which tool is best don’t care if there’s a neighborhood plan or not,” he said. “There will be cases where transect zones will be applied where you don’t have a neighborhood plan, and there will be cases in neighborhood areas where you still have non-transect zoning.”

The consultants said they would be in town next week, and while the land use commissions did not think scheduling another joint meeting before the one in April would be appropriate, they did agree to send memos to other board and commission chairs to let them know about the opportunity and to give them some discussion topic suggestions.

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin.

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