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Commission considers flood survivors in CodeNEXT recommendation

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

CodeNEXT will make floods worse and displace more low-income Austin residents: That was the opinion of several residents and former residents of Dove Springs, a community that bore the brunt of the 2013 and 2015 Onion Creek floods, who spoke at the Environmental Commission’s May 17 meeting. In response, commissioners voted to amend their draft letter of recommendation to urge City Council to make more of an effort to include the voices of flood survivors in the CodeNEXT review process.

Dove Springs resident Frances Acuña, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, expressed concern that increased development and impervious cover have caused more runoff, compounding the risk of flooding. She fears that CodeNEXT, with its goal of making the permitting process for development simpler and easier, will only make things worse.

“We were the ones there in the beginning when the city wasn’t even there,” she said at the meeting.

Although density was expected to increase, Matt Hollon with the Watershed Protection Department clarified that the draft CodeNEXT text in its current form would not increase impervious cover entitlements on average.

Anna Perez, a former Dove Springs resident who had to relocate after the 2015 floods when she lost everything except for the clothes on her back, held the developers in Southeast Austin directly responsible for the lives lost during the tragedy. “I believe the developers are running the city, not our elected officials. They have contributed to the flooding and gotten away with murder,” she said.

Because they have not received enough aid from the city in the wake of the catastrophic storms, Acuña said, the neighborhood has been forced to take care of itself. Evita Cruz, another longtime resident forced to relocate, said that she feels like the city has exploited the fruits of the community’s labor to beckon more development into the area. “I worked on the face-lift of the Dove Springs District Park,” she said, “but now that it’s been upgraded, my rent is going up because of the amenities that I myself worked on.”

Perhaps because of this treatment, Cruz said, there is a deep disconnect between the city and the Dove Springs community, and she pleaded with commissioners to do more to raise awareness about the CodeNEXT process.

Some commissioners rebuked the idea that the revamping of the land use code would exacerbate flooding risk. “We’re trying to move on from the problems created by the current code,” Commissioner Andrew Creel said. “The least we can do is stop the generation of those problems.”

“We’re going to have flooding problems now; we’re going to have flooding problems in the future,” Commissioner Hank Smith said. “CodeNEXT gives us an opportunity to fix some of those problems, but it’s not going to cause flooding problems.”

Regardless of what CodeNEXT’s impact on flooding will be, Chair Marisa Perales said that it was clear that some voices were being left out of the discussion. “I recognize that what we have here (in the letter of recommendation) is intended to address some of their concerns,” she said, “but I think that we would be remiss not to further strengthen the language in light of the comments (given tonight).”

She proposed two amendments: one that would encourage more robust community engagement, specifically making Spanish interpreters available, and another that would give special consideration to the input of those most affected by the floods. Commissioners voted to adopt the letter of recommendation unanimously.

Photo by Joey Parsons made available through a Creative Commons license.

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