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Thursday, August 16, 2018 by Jack Craver
Planning Commission wonders what to do after CodeNEXT
CodeNEXT might be dead, but most members of the Planning Commission seem to agree that they can’t give up on making big changes to the Land Development Code.
For over a year, discussion of CodeNEXT has been a standing item on the commission’s agenda. Although the commission did not always exercise its right to take up the matter, members could always choose to take it up if they felt they had something to add to the ongoing conversation.
At the commission’s first meeting in the wake of CodeNEXT’s death, Commissioner Greg Anderson said it didn’t make sense to keep a reference on the agenda to the deceased project. After all, said Anderson, “CodeNEXT” was not a defined set of policy proposals as much as a marketing term that the city used to describe that effort to overhaul the Land Development Code.
“CodeNEXT by its name has too many negative connotations,” said Anderson, who attributed many of the negative perceptions about the proposal to misinformation and propaganda by those opposed to building more housing.
However, it is imperative, said Anderson, for the Planning Commission to continue discussing and pushing for long-term reforms to the code.
“Simply removing (CodeNEXT) makes me uncomfortable though, as we still have a legal obligation to reform our 1984 Land Development Code, and without serious reform we are guaranteeing ourselves greater affordability, environmental and transportation issues moving forward,” he said.
It is important to mention the year that the code was last updated, said Anderson, so that people understand why reform is so desperately needed.
Other commissioners generally agreed, although a few were wary of putting an item on the agenda that could lead to an open-ended conversation about everything wrong with Austin’s code at every commission meeting.
“I think we should divide it up into bits,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson. “This week we’re going to talk about parking. Next week we’re going to talk about affordable housing bonuses.”
Commissioner Fayez Kazi offered a resolution to express the commission’s opinion about how the city manager should go about working to reform the code.
In addition to recommending that the city manager begin working immediately on developing a process to overhaul the existing code, Kazi’s resolution suggests that the technical aspects of the code be dealt with separately from the more controversial zoning rules. The resolution also suggests that the city manager fast-track approval of some of the “more manageable portions of code revisions.”
Commissioner Conor Kenny applauded the idea of separating the two sections of the code, recalling that one of the CodeNEXT consultants had called it “insane” that the city chose to deal with both areas at once.
Commissioner Patricia Seeger took issue with a clause of Kazi’s resolution stating that CodeNEXT “produced a tremendous amount of consensus, in addition to areas of strong disagreement.”
“As someone who was typically on the losing end of most amendments, I don’t feel there was a tremendous amount of consensus,” said Seeger.
Chair James Shieh said he wanted to see language included emphasizing a better public engagement process, which is where he believes CodeNEXT faltered. He noted the length of time it took for the CodeNEXT team to respond to comments submitted by members of the community and land use commissioners.
If the commission is going to say anything about engaging the public, said Anderson, it should stress the importance of engaging renters and young people, who are the most likely to be suffering from the city’s affordability crisis.
“There was a real lopsidedness to homeowners and older folks,” he said about the CodeNEXT engagement efforts. “I never saw CodeNEXT at ACL. I never saw CodeNEXT at Blues on the Green.”
Shieh voiced concerns about specifying engagement of certain groups, saying that such a goal could be fulfilled simply by emphasizing “equitable” outreach.
With some members of the commission absent and others saying they wanted more time to ponder the proposals, the commission opted not to take any action.
Map courtesy of the city of Austin.
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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.