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Neighborhood density dialed back in new CodeNEXT draft

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 by Syeda Hasan

The city of Austin has released its third draft of CodeNEXT, the ongoing overhaul of the rules governing what can be built where. At City Hall Monday evening, staff held an open house on the proposed Land Development Code, inviting residents to view the new zoning maps and ask questions.

Draft 2 of CodeNEXT was largely seen by Austin preservationists as a broad upzoning of the city, allowing for more residential density in central neighborhoods. Under Draft 3, existing zoning remains largely the same in many of the city’s core neighborhoods.

“Draft 3 focuses a lot of our development along our corridors and centers just as it was outlined in Imagine Austin,” Planning and Zoning Department Director Greg Guernsey said, referring to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Austin will continue to grow no matter what code we operate under, but the new code will help guide growth in a way that’s both beneficial and advantageous for Austinites,” he said.

Guernsey said the rules outlined in the third draft also make it easier to build backyard apartments, with the goal of adding new housing units while retaining the look and feel of neighborhoods. The latest version of CodeNEXT also expands Austin’s density bonus programs, applying them to greater swaths of the city. Density bonuses grant developers certain privileges, such as being allowed to build a taller development, in exchange for affordable housing units.

“The capacity for more affordable units has been created, and this will not only help (with) affordability for today, but also in the future,” Guernsey said. He added that the latest draft also fully incorporates Austin’s Save Our Springs Ordinance and has been bolstered with additional flooding protections.

City Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT this April, though some groups are pushing for a delay. As that deadline nears, one faction of Council members wants to maximize the amount of affordable housing that can be built under the new code. That group includes Council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan and Pio Renteria. They want the entire city to take on its share of new housing.

Another bloc on Council that includes Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Alison Alter and Ann Kitchen has a list of 56 goals for developing a successful Land Development Code. That list includes allowing more types of housing – especially new housing along major corridors – while protecting neighborhoods and the environment.

Austin resident Tom Fitzpatrick, who lives near Travis Heights, stopped by the open house to learn about the new code. His first impression was that environmental protections have improved under the new code. But Fitzpatrick said he’s still wary of the city allowing more housing along major corridors.

“We’re very concerned about the density within the central neighborhoods, about imposition of new entitlements and new residential density inside the core of urban neighborhoods,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t see that that has changed much since the last draft.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Martin do Nascimento/KUT.

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

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