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Historic commission rejects CodeNEXT draft

Monday, December 11, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

“CodeNEXT continues to enable the demolition and replacement of existing housing stock with new construction. Consequently, the Commission cannot recommend the adoption of CodeNEXT as written.”

That’s the consensus of the Historic Landmark Commission, according to a resolution about the second draft of CodeNEXT. Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, which was drafted by a subcommittee that had studied the proposed code, during their Oct. 23 meeting. Commissioners Andrew Brown, Emily Hibbs, Trish Hudson and Alex Papavasiliou were absent for the vote.

That resolution determined preservation was not sufficiently considered in the rewrite of the Land Development Code.

“I wanted to reject CodeNEXT out of hand,” said Commissioner Terri Myers. “It was hard for me to look at the code and enter into these discussions trying to make suggestions or recommendations on a draft code I felt fundamentally did not respect or prioritize historic preservation as a planning tool or as a positive good for our city,” she continued.

Myers said that her hope was that some of the recommendations in the resolution would be adopted in the final draft of the code. If those changes didn’t happen, she told her fellow commissioners, she felt they “should really consider rejecting CodeNEXT altogether.”

“As it is, it does not promote, protect or preserve historic buildings in this city,” said Myers.

The Historic Landmark Commission resolution suggests a number of strategies to encourage preservation including an endorsement of accessory dwelling units “as a tool to retain older, historic-age residential buildings … while increasing density.” To that end, commissioners endorsed the idea of allowing ADUs by right if the the historic-age house was retained or allowing small older homes to be classified as ADUs while remaining in the front of the lot.

The resolution also suggests CodeNEXT could help discourage demolition of older buildings through impact fees, reduced or eliminated parking requirements, increased entitlements, and other incentives to retain older buildings in the city.

Myers said that she understood that parking was a big concern in many neighborhoods. However, she explained, not requiring more parking spaces was also one of the few incentives the city could offer for preserving historic homes.

The resolution also includes a list of “necessary next steps” for a city historic preservation program. Those steps include funding a comprehensive historic resources survey for the city, creation of a citywide preservation plan to guide policy, and suggestions for enabling the creation of local historic districts.

“If I had to make any comment on it, I would make some of the next steps priorities,” said Commissioner Kevin Koch. He specifically cited the importance of promoting preservation citywide through “some basic changes to the code” and noted that creation of local historic districts, and other municipal tools, could be stressed as priorities.

The third draft of CodeNEXT, which will be staff’s recommendation, is now expected to be released on Feb. 12. City Council is scheduled to begin its review of the document in late April 2018.

Photo by Kari Sullivan made available through a Creative Commons license.

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

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