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Commission plots new CodeNEXT recommendation road map

Thursday, October 26, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

In hindsight, future historians may interpret the Planning Commission’s Oct. 24 resolution as taking a clever shortcut toward the final destination of an April 2018 CodeNEXT adoption. Or, it may be viewed as a turnaround that strayed off the clear path set by City Council. In any case, the timeline for reviewing the code has changed.

Tuesday night, Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza made a motion that strived to pull together the various components necessary to forge a new avenue forward. The motion directed staff to draw up a new “equivalency” map that would be a near-translation of the city’s current zoning and to commit to answering commissioners’ questions in the last couple months before a final recommendation. It also proposed that the commission approve the road map designed by Chair Stephen Oliver for the 2018 review months, create a working group (made up of up to five commissioners) to develop criteria for mapping, and approve a resolution drafted by Oliver and Commissioner James Shieh that outlined the reasoning behind this navigational reorientation. Commissioner Trinity White seconded.

A few commissioners, some of whom had held an impromptu press conference the previous week advocating for no more delays in the process, were unsettled by the message put forward in the resolution. Commissioner Angela De Hoyos Hart made some friendly amendments to strike through certain passages in the resolution that she felt speculated too far into the future as to what the timeline, including post-adoption, would look like.

Commissioner Chito Vela went a step further and made a substitute motion that included the original motion’s provisions except for the resolution, which he thought included too many undiscussed forecasts, like how small-area planning would be incorporated down the road.

“I’m not prepared at this point to debate that (idea), or say we’re going to do an extra year, or that we’re going to get into a two- to five-year planning process,” Vela said at the meeting. “What I am prepared to do is say that over these next five months, consistent with the instructions that Council has given us, we are going to move forward with the task that we have in front of us.”

However, as Oliver pointed out, it was the resolution that proposed the decoupling of the text review from the map review, making it possible for the commission to make a recommendation on the text by the original deadline of January while giving the proposed working group time to formulate a plan of attack for a recommendation on the map. According to Oliver’s road map, that recommendation would be submitted in March.

This strategic maneuver and the intent behind it, White said, was a crucial foundation for everything else in the motion. “The whole point of this exercise and the whole point of this conversation is to say that we need to look at the text specifically so that we can get the tools right, so that we can then make sure that the zoning (map) works with the tools that we have,” she said.

In line with that argument, Zaragoza said that it did not make sense to her to already be setting deadlines for the map recommendation before the working group had a chance to thoughtfully predict how long it could take. “To me, my first priority is to get it right,” she said. “It’s very secondary to do it within (Council’s) time frame. I’m going to work really hard to get it done, but I don’t feel like we’re asking a lot. We’re just asking for time to figure out what this piece looks like.”

White said that she understood where Zaragoza was coming from but did think that a tentative finish line would be helpful. “The final product means more to me as well,” she said, “but I think it is the will of some of the commissioners here to aim high.”

Jerry Rusthoven with the Planning and Zoning Department informed the commission that rooms had not been reserved yet for the road map’s meeting dates. Oliver responded that they were only target dates.

Vela’s motion failed with only five affirmative votes, and after another strikethrough friendly amendment suggested by Commissioner Karen McGraw, Zaragoza’s motion passed 11-1-1. Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson voted against and Commissioner James Schissler abstained. Commissioner Greg Anderson was absent.

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

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons made available through a Creative Commons license.

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