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Cronk names team, spells out process for land use code rewrite

Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

City Manager Spencer Cronk has selected the team that will handle the creation and adoption of the city’s new land use code, with the goal of completing the process by the end of 2019.

In a memo issued Tuesday, Cronk gave City Council an outline of the plan he has created for restarting the process once known as CodeNEXT, which was abandoned last summer by Council because of widespread lack of community support. The memo spells out that the new third draft of the code – referred to as Draft 3 going forward – will arrive in three or four months, with assistant city manager Rodney Gonzales leading the team of seven leadership-level staffers and seven more core team members, with the whole team selected from a cross section of city departments.

In the memo, Cronk explained his thinking in opting not to have the Planning and Zoning Department exclusively handle the rewrite.

“As we embark on this new effort, rather than assigning this project to one department, I am assembling a broad-based and cross-functional team that will collaboratively share in the responsibility of drafting a revised code for our community,” he wrote. “Having a cross-functional and multi-departmental team reporting to my office will allow any issues that arise during code revision to be resolved in an efficient manner. The role of each team member emphasizes specific areas of expertise, as well as broader understanding of the Land Development Code and land use planning.”

Earlier this month, City Council approved a conceptual framework for changes it wants to see in the code, which will guide the team in its work through the fall. That document’s directives include adding 135,000 new housing units by 2027 – including 60,000 income-restricted units – and finding ways to increase the supply of “missing middle” housing units that are smaller and less expensive than traditional single-family homes.

Council also decided to make a priority of easing compatibility standards to allow more types of development in proximity to other nearby uses, and possibly eliminating parking minimums in areas near activity center zones, which were designated in the Imagine Austin process of 2012.

Cronk’s road map for the rewrite is radically different than the CodeNEXT process, which delivered its first draft plan in early 2017 but had been criticized for years before that. After spending $8.5 million and years gathering community input, Council voted last summer to suspend the process.

The May 2 vote by Council, which was 8-3 with Council members Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool and Alison Alter opposed, was followed by a unanimous vote to adopt a new density bonus program aimed at making housing more affordable.

When staff completes the new code and map, the city will create a process for the public to review and comment, with that feedback to be considered during the Planning Commission’s review as well as that of City Council. The Planning Commission will hold hearings on the documents and produce a report for Council, with staff expected to provide briefings to other city boards and commissions.

Cronk advised Council to then hold a first reading vote on the documents that will provide instruction on which components of the Planning Commission report to incorporate into the final revision. The revised code and map will then be prepared for final adoption.

Photo by John Flynn.

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