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Council gets preview of CodeNEXT 2.0

Thursday, September 7, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Many of the answers amounted to “wait another week,” but City Council was able to pry some information about the second draft of CodeNEXT from consultants and staff at a special called meeting Wednesday.

One of the main criticisms of the first draft was its hybrid nature, which proposed, for the most part, a form-based code for the urban core, a use-based code for the suburban areas and the old code to fill in the cracks. Consultant John Miki with Opticos Design Inc. opened up the presentation by promising that the draft preparers had heard the feedback loud and clear.

“In draft two, we are taking a more consistent and more flexible approach to the actual standards,” he said at the meeting, “and we have a single spectrum. That’s a big change. So now it will be easier to understand the relationship between each of these zoning districts, regardless of whether they have more form controls or less.”

In April, Council approved the Strategic Housing Blueprint, which forecasted a need for 135,000 new units in the next 10 years to accommodate the city’s rapid growth. One of the key tools of the CodeNEXT drafting process has been the analysis of particular Austin parcels that illustrate the development potential of each new zoning category. “(With this second draft), we’re actually doing a specific pro forma approach,” consultant John Fregonese said, “where we look at, given what’s permitted in the code, what’s financially feasible based on the assessed value of the property now.”

Of course, there are fears that the goal of market feasibility has competed with the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan in guiding the CodeNEXT mapping of the new zoning districts. Consultants had avoided answering a direct question on profitability’s influence on the new land use code at a joint land use commissions meeting back in June, and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo at Wednesday’s meeting decided to return to the sensitive subject. “To what extent is (market desirability) still a component in some of the application of different zones?” she asked.

“That’s one of the factors we use when making mapping decisions,” said Jerry Rusthoven with the Planning and Zoning Department.

“Has that continued into the next round of drafts?” Tovo asked.

Rusthoven said that it had, but clarified that in some sense there was no way of getting around the problem. “There’s been push from some people to increase the zoning in outlying areas in an attempt to lure development to that area, and we’ve heard from our consultants that that would be an unwise decision,” he said. “Zoning by itself does not drive the market. Market forces drive the market.”

Tovo said she never recalled Council giving that sort of direction to staff, and Mayor Steve Adler agreed that staff should follow up and provide Council with the specific criteria they use when determining a parcel’s feasibility. “There’s a difference between putting something where the development community would want to build versus where it is that people want to live,” he said.

CodeNEXT 2.0 is scheduled to be released Friday, Sept. 15, and the drafters will give presentations to the land use commissions and Council the following week. Staff will also be organizing open houses for the new draft over the next few weeks, including one Spanish session, but the locations are still to be determined.

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

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