Tuesday, May 2, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

CodeNEXT review process to get makeover

With only a few months left to provide its recommendations on CodeNEXT, the Planning Commission is talking about scrapping staff’s prescribed review process for one of its own making. “I don’t think we’re going to get where we want to get with reviewing the code if we keep doing the status quo,” Chair Stephen Oliver said.

The Planning Commission is just one of the city’s boards and commissions tasked with revising the first drafts of the CodeNEXT text and maps before City Council takes its first vote on the rewrite in December. While the new Land Development Code will apply to the whole city, the biggest changes will be taking place in the urban core with the introduction of form-based transect zoning districts.

Since the draft text was released in January, the city’s land-use commissions have been holding joint work sessions on a monthly basis to hear staff and consultant presentations and share their feedback. During the commission’s April 25 meeting, Oliver said that these sessions have been informative, but they haven’t been productive. “They are not work sessions,” he said. “I think we’re in danger of getting lapped by the information in front of us if we don’t get away from spending our time listening to people.”

As an alternative, Oliver proposed breaking the commission into three working groups: one to focus on the draft, another to focus on the mapping and one to oversee everything. Commissioner James Shieh suggested that the oversight group should reach out to neighborhood associations and contact teams to get their input.

“This isn’t just our task,” Shieh said. “We also have to be empowering those out there to carry some of this weight as well.”

Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey cautioned the commission to not stretch itself too thin. “If the commission wants to engage every contact team and association, I think it’s going to take quite a while to do that,” he said, “but you could certainly solicit them to provide information.”

Shieh also said that the question of infrastructure should also receive attention from one of the working groups. Commissioner Tom Nuckols proposed that the text working group take that responsibility.

As for the composition of the working groups, Vice Chair Fayez Kazi said that either Commissioner Angela Pineyro de Hoyos or Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza, who are both on the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities, should be on the mapping working group to ensure that the new districts were mapped equitably. Oliver clarified that that group would not be tasked with remapping the city, but would instead evaluate the methodology that staff and consultants used.

Although the working group will limit its scope to the bigger picture, that will not prevent commissioners advocating for neighborhoods as individuals, Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson pointed out. “We want to make sure that we’re hearing their voices,” he said.

Oliver said that before the May 9 meeting he would attempt to formulate the working groups based on commissioner interest and their area of residence, and then the commission could approve the groups at that meeting.

Curious about how we got here? Check out the Austin Monitor’s CodeNEXT Timeline.

Photo by NASA (Mariner-Venus 1962 Final Project Report) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

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

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