Friday, October 20, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Planning Commission quartet revolts against calls for CodeNEXT delay

In an unconventional maneuver, four Planning Commissioners hosted an impromptu press conference Thursday at City Hall, announcing their opposition to voices critical of the CodeNEXT timeline.

Commissioners Chito Vela, Greg Anderson, Jeffrey Thompson and Angela De Hoyos Hart all made statements urging the city to proceed as planned on the current draft schedule. The land use commissions must submit their formal comments by Oct. 31 for consideration in the third and final draft of CodeNEXT, and they will have until the middle of January to make their final recommendations to City Council, which is supposed to make the decision to adopt by April.

“The city has been working on CodeNEXT for five years now. We’ve had dozens of public meetings and workshops and have received thousands of comments on the proposed code. It’s time to act. It’s time to move forward,” Vela said at the press conference.

There have been various calls to slow down the review of CodeNEXT, coming from both inside and outside City Hall. Last week, Council Member Leslie Pool tried to tweak the process when Council authorized additional funds to lead consultant Opticos Design Inc. by making it so that consultants and staff would have to finish revisions to the second draft before continuing.

Earlier this week, Zoning and Platting Commission members at their regular meeting shared their frustrations about the process moving too fast. Commissioner David King said at that meeting that the commission should put their foot down and say that “enough was enough.”

Others, like the grassroots group Community Not Commodity, have advocated for more extreme measures like stalling the entire review and allowing Austinites to vote on whether to persist or to scrap CodeNEXT altogether.

Even within the Planning Commission itself there has been debate around the timeline. At its last meeting on Oct. 10, Commissioner James Shieh informally floated the idea that the text and map components of CodeNEXT didn’t necessarily have to be approved at the same time. He asserted that if the commission focused on finalizing the text according to the existing timeline, then the maps could be refined later after more planning was done based on the final product cleared by Council.

This suggestion resonated with other commissioners, including Chair Stephen Oliver, who told the Austin Monitor that he would be bringing a resolution forward at next week’s Planning Commission meeting that will be proposing to prioritize the text and pass an “interim” map that will serve as a placeholder until later.

“(That) map will get swapped for something that has (more) thought put into it,” Oliver said in an interview. “I don’t know if that happens in April, or May, or June, I just know that it needs more time than the current window between now and January. We don’t have the ability to work through each of those important issues simultaneously.”

However, Oliver said that he did not think that his resolution contradicted what the other commissioners talked about at the press conference and that he agreed that the ball had to keep moving. Vela told the Monitor that he was not opposed to “taking things in a certain order,” but that he was primarily against leaving “the status quo,” or the current code, in place any longer than it has to be.

This story has been corrected. We originally reported that Council Member Pool’s amendments were not accepted.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

CodeNEXT: CodeNEXT is the name given to the land development code rewrite process undertaken in the early 2010s by the City of Austin.

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