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Commission asks Council to delay CodeNEXT mapping

Thursday, March 9, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

In an act of defiance to the momentum of the CodeNEXT juggernaut, the Zoning and Platting Commission passed a resolution at the closing of its March 7 meeting calling on City Council to direct Planning and Zoning Department staff and consultants to delay the April 18 release of the CodeNEXT mapping until a “cohesive and unified electronic code” has been finalized.

Interim Chair Jolene Kiolbassa co-authored the resolution with Commissioner Betsy Greenberg and explained at the meeting that the impetus behind the resolution originated with the joint land use commissions meeting on Feb. 28. Many commissioners at the joint meeting criticized the CodeNEXT draft text for melding a new form-based zoning code to the existing zoning code. Commissioner Jim Duncan described the hybrid code as “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Released at the end of January, the draft text recommends two distinct types of zoning districts for different sections of the city. “Transect” districts, taken from a planning model developed by New Urbanist Andrés Duany centered around mixed use, would apply to the more urban parts of the city, and the traditional Euclidean code would be reserved for suburban and rural areas.

Planning and Zoning Department Director Greg Guernsey explained at the joint meeting that planning staff were still tweaking the districts and that the CodeNEXT mapping would answer many of the commissioners’ questions, but that he could not answer them that night.

As commissioners read over the draft resolution on Tuesday, Greenberg said that the mapping could very well clarify aspects of the draft code, but that it could also have an adverse effect on the review process.

“The concern is that once the maps come out, the text will be in some sense cast in concrete,” she said, “and problems with the text may be harder to walk back.”

Commissioner Sunil Lavani disputed that concern, reiterating that the mapping would also be a draft. “We’ll just have another element to help us understand the text,” he said. “We’re so close to getting the map anyways, we might as well get it.”

Kiolbassa emphasized that if the first mapping draft is finished based on the two currently proposed zoning codes, revising the draft text into one code could trigger a complete overhaul of the mapping draft.

Duncan said that he was hopeful after a work session with the CodeNEXT consultants earlier that afternoon but that there was still much more work to do. “I have never seen so much enmity and frustration in this town in a long time,” he said. “(Implementing Imagine Austin) should be a glorious event, and I think right now it’s not.”

Commissioner Ann Denkler agreed. “We are being held to a timeline, and the last thing I want to see happen is a poorly written code be adopted, and all of this was for naught,” she said.

After some rewriting, the resolution asks Council to provide more time and a formalized process to review the current draft, to supply more resources to assist in that review and to use the feedback generated from that review to construct one code that can be applied uniformly throughout the city before proceeding with mapping.

Lavani suggested that ZAP commissioners personally reach out to planning commissioners about the resolution and to provide them with copies.

Commissioner Bruce Evans made a motion to approve the amended draft resolution and Commissioner Ana Aguirre seconded. The motion passed 9-0-1, with Commissioner Yvette Flores abstaining.

Photo by John Flynn.

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