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What will CodeNEXT mean for Austin’s neighborhood plans?

Thursday, October 26, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

At a CodeNEXT meeting earlier this month, residents from across Austin raised concerns about one perceived change: that the city’s new Land Development Code would scrap their neighborhood plans.

Jorge Rousselin, the city’s project manager on CodeNEXT, said that’s just not true.

“There has been no change to how we are addressing neighborhood plans through CodeNEXT,” he said.

The neighborhood planning process allows residents of a given area to weigh in on its future development. Rousselin said the plans can only be changed through action by City Council – CodeNEXT can’t just do away with them. In fact, he said, those neighborhood plans have helped to inform the CodeNEXT maps, which show how the new zoning regulations would apply across the city.

Rousselin thinks the confusion may stem from changes in the regulatory language under CodeNEXT.

“The neighborhood plans are not included in the nomenclature of the zoning district if that’s what they are referring to, but those neighborhood plans continue to exist,” he said.

To those who have helped craft Austin’s neighborhood plans, the documents serve as a guide that is often the culmination of years of work.

Lin Team is a real estate agent and serves as president of the Eastwoods Neighborhood Association. In the early 2000s, Team helped write a plan that covers Eastwoods and a cluster of other neighborhoods near the University of Texas campus. Team, who has long been active in historic preservation efforts, said she struck compromises with people who didn’t share her views. They grew to trust each other. Team wishes she saw more of that kind of camaraderie in the CodeNEXT process.

“We have this package that we love,” she said. “We all agree it’s a benefit and that it will keep peace in the world as we know it because we have developed it together.”

Still, a 2016 city audit found that the city’s neighborhood planning process is inequitable and that it lacks representation from renters. Team said it’s not surprising that homeowners would be more involved in such a tedious and time-consuming writing process. After all, a home is often a person’s largest investment. Though not everyone gets involved, she sees the neighborhood planning process as a representative form of participation.

“There are very few of us who live in a silo,” she said. “We are all affected by conversations with our neighbors and friends, what we read and what we see.”

In her own neighborhood, Team said residents have found ways to strike a balance, adding housing units while preserving historic homes like her own. Others say a lack of diverse voices in the neighborhood planning process has real effects on the types of housing that get built and, ultimately, who can afford to live in Austin.

Francisco Enriquez is with the nonprofit think tank Evolve Austin.

“If we have a patchwork method of planning our city by which some people are allowed in some parts and some housing, and (other) people are allowed in other parts, there’s the possibility that people may be excluded because of that,” Enriquez said.

Enriquez said he’s not advocating for doing away with the plans. He just wants more people to be involved in the process.

Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in about six months.

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

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Everdayzac made available through a Creative Commons license.

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