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Commission finds itself at CodeNEXT crossroads

Monday, August 28, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Only a few weeks before the scheduled release of CodeNEXT Draft 2.0, the Planning Commission at its Aug. 22 meeting took a step outside of business as usual and considered the alternatives in proceeding with the revamp of the city’s land use code.

After the release of the first CodeNEXT draft, the Planning Commission decided to split into subcommittees: one to analyze the text, one for the map and one for scheduling. Since then, the map subcommittee has taken the lead in coming up with a list of recommendations for the staff and consultants as they continue to revise, although it is still a work in progress.

Draft 2.0 has been envisioned by the code drafters as a collaboration between the land use commissions and themselves, but as the release date creeps closer it seems like any input given by the Planning Commission now will have to wait for the third draft. “Are we walking hand in hand on draft two?” Chair Stephen Oliver asked at the meeting. “I don’t know.”

“There’s just so little interaction between us and those making the decisions,” Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza said.

The map subcommittee working document has 19 recommendations, but commissioners did not feel prepared to vote on each at the meeting. Still, Commissioner Angela De Hoyos Hart urged her colleagues to at least make a decision on the last point of the letter, which she called a “devil’s bargain”: a series of three possible directions moving forward.

The first option would be to slow the whole process down to allow time for incorporating neighborhood plans before finalizing the map. The second would be to continue on the current track but reset expectations with the public given that the new code will have a fair share of bugs. The last alternative would be to map what is already on the ground and then give the public and the city the tools to keep trucking down the development path set by Imagine Austin.

Commissioner James Shieh said that as hard as some of those choices may be to swallow, especially considering how much money the city has already poured into the CodeNEXT bucket, the commission still owes it to the public to be honest about the current situation. “By putting the question in front of us, it forces us back to what we need to do,” he said.

Before deciding how to move forward, however, Commissioner Trinity White said that the city should first figure out where it’s at. “There’s a lot of information that was assumed when these maps were made that we haven’t been able to look at yet,” she said.

No matter which direction the commission ends up going, Commissioner Chito Vela reiterated that the city has to make sure that it’s not leaving anyone behind. “I think a lot of the city is looking at this process as this internal battle between Central Austin neighborhoods,” he said. “That’s wrong.”

The second draft of CodeNEXT will be published on Sept. 15, but the land use commissions will still have until next January to make their final recommendations.

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

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