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Austin architects say CodeNEXT limits opportunity for ‘missing middle’ housing

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

As Austin’s new land development code, known as CodeNEXT, is being written, city staff and the private sector are working to understand how it will shape future development.

Last month, members of the Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects tried their hand at applying the new code to neighborhoods across the city. A group of 72 architects, developers, attorneys, engineers and planners took part in a CodeNEXT Charrette, applying the newly proposed regulations to hypothetical development scenarios. The institute’s David Carroll presented the findings last night during a joint meeting of the city’s Planning and Zoning and Platting commissions.

“Those participants were divided into seven teams,” Carroll said. “We were looking at seven different area types in Austin. We looked at a neighborhood low-density residential area. We looked at a central neighborhood residential area.”

Other zones the group considered included activity corridors, regional centers and downtown Austin. In the end, Carroll said the design exercise raised some concerns. Namely, the institute says the code seems to limit the opportunity for building more “missing middle” housing. Institute architect Tyler Stowell said one key constraint is that projects with more than two proposed units require a full site plan review by the city.

“Which would of course add time, complexity and cost to an owner seeking to do a modest three- or four-unit development that would otherwise look and feel exactly like a single-family house,” Stowell said.

The institute proposes eliminating that site plan requirement for projects with 10 or fewer residential units. Stowell also noted the difficulty that persists in navigating the new code, namely its reliance on footnotes. He said during the exercise some design teams noticed a footnote halfway through their planning processes and had to start from scratch.

It’s worth noting that during the exercise, some key sections of CodeNEXT had yet to be released. Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Jolene Kiolbassa asked whether the group would conduct a follow-up exercise using the newly released density bonus section. Stowell said the group would incorporate that if it chose to do a second charrette. The institute aims to complete a final report on the findings of the charrette in the coming weeks.

Last week, City Council approved issuing an additional draft of CodeNEXT, which will undergo further scrutiny by city commissions. Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in April 2018.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Martin do Nascimento / KUT.

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