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CodeNEXT wrong on PUDs, says commission

Monday, January 22, 2018 by Joseph Caterine

Waiting for the release of the third and final draft of CodeNEXT has not stopped the Zoning and Platting Commission from continuing to criticize the second draft, even after the commission submitted its formal recommendation last October. One of the main issues of contention discussed at its Jan. 2 meeting was the current system of planned unit developments (PUDs) and how the second draft does little to improve it.

City Council approved the PUD ordinance on June 18, 2008, and since then the zoning tool has been used to accommodate larger development projects, trading flexibility on design for community benefits like green spaces and affordable housing. Four years later, the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan pointed out flaws in how PUDs had played out in practice. “The current code does not adequately guarantee superior results, and the public is often skeptical of these projects,” the plan reads.

In their October recommendation, commissioners suggested re-configuring the affordability requirements. Commissioner Jim Duncan gave a presentation at the Jan. 2 meeting that identified bigger problems. Namely, he said that the way they are negotiated is highly susceptible to manipulation on the part of the applicant.

For example, despite the ordinance setting a 10-acre requirement (allowing for special topographical exceptions), a number of PUDs like The Park, Broadstone at the Lake and South Lamar (nicknamed “Taco”) all fall far short. “They chose PUD only to increase entitlements,” Duncan said. “Only because they didn’t want to stop at 60 feet. They wanted to go to 90 or 100 feet. We got nothing in return.”

Commissioner David King, who cut his political teeth organizing around the Taco PUD, concurred with Duncan’s assessment. “We went through that whole bruising battle (for) two years,” he said. “All of the blood, sweat and tears that the city staff went through, that the commissions went through to review it, that the City Council went through: All of that work amounted to zero. We have nothing at that site.”

Duncan said he didn’t think PUDs were inherently bad; in fact, he believes their ability to fit massive mixed-use projects into specific conditions is valuable from a planning perspective. “That’s really the purpose of PUDs,” Duncan said, “and that’s probably where we have violated the principles of a PUD more than anybody.”

Draft 2 of CodeNEXT cleans up the PUD ordinance and organizes it better, Duncan said, but it comes at the expense of losing important provisions. The assessment and baseline reports have been removed, the two-tier environmental superiority categories have been merged into one and the green star rating has been reduced from three stars to two. “There’s no way in three weeks we are going to find all of these (problems) and bring them into decent compliance,” Duncan said, referencing the Feb. 12 Draft 3 release. “That’s why we’re going to continue to have a constituency that is going to be very concerned about passing version three.”

Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey said at the meeting that staff had suggested a CodeNEXT review schedule for the land use commissions to follow in order to submit their final recommendation in time for City Council to see it by April. The commission was scheduled to vote on Jan. 16 on a letter to CodeNEXT consultants concerning Draft 3’s reliance on the East Riverside Corridor compatibility standards, but that meeting was canceled due to inclement weather.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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

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