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Zoning and Platting brainstorms for CodeNEXT recommendation

Monday, May 22, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

The Good, the Missing and the Unacceptable: not a reboot of the Clint Eastwood classic, but the categories of CodeNEXT criticism established as the foundation of the Zoning and Platting Commission’s letter of recommendation at its May 16 meeting.

Like a moving train, the CodeNEXT review process has not lost momentum since the draft text was released in January, and the deadline for comments on that text before the second draft is only a couple of weeks away. Zoning and Platting has spent the past few months discussing the new land-use code text and map but has yet to organize its ideas into a recommendation.

The density bonus program specifics, the Strategic Mobility Plan, urban trails and open space standards, landscape compatibility buffers, and other provisions are expected to be added by staff in the second go-around, but some commissioners found the draft code to be lacking in other respects.

Commissioner Jim Duncan proposed that every CodeNEXT section have a purpose statement, both to guide staff’s work and to make the document more comprehensive for users. Reiterating a criticism that she has made at previous joint meetings, Commissioner Ana Aguirre pointed out the absence of Spanish translations for CodeNEXT documents, with the exception of a one-page explainer.

“When we’re talking about equity,” Aguirre said at the meeting, “(non-English speakers) are already at a major disadvantage.”

As for what was unacceptable, the list was long. Evoking the statements made in the commission’s March resolution calling for City Council to delay the release of the CodeNEXT map, Chair Jolene Kiolbassa said that having three different codes (the new form-based transect code, the new use-based code and the old Euclidean code) would not be feasible. According to Jerry Rusthoven with the Planning and Zoning Department, approximately a quarter of the city will not be rezoned with the implementation of the new code.

Commissioner Bruce Evans elaborated that the hybrid nature of the code and its fragmented reflection in the map will not make the permitting process simpler or easier for developers. Following up on that point, Commissioner Betsy Greenberg described an “inherent unfairness” at the core of the current draft map. “To me, the transects are in the wrong places,” she said. “I feel like very unclear criteria was used for mapping, and I would really like to have more information about that.”

Commissioner Sunil Lavani added that if the new code and mapping do not take Imagine Austin’s growth centers and activity corridors into consideration, there could be the unintended consequence of shifting density toward the wrong areas. “We could see a ripple effect,” he said, “where we’re trying to fix one area and all of a sudden there’s a byproduct that actually reduces the density where we need it.”

Despite the serious problems mentioned, some commissioners did applaud certain achievements of the draft code. Commissioner Ann Denkler said that the proposal for developers to build sidewalks with the streets was a great idea. “We’re going to get sidewalks quicker, and we’re going to get more of them,” she said.

Greenberg and Commissioner David King volunteered to transform the night’s discussion into a written draft letter of recommendation by their next meeting on June 6 in time to approve it before the comments submission deadline for the text the following day. The initial deadline for comments on the draft map is July 7.

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

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