The city of Austin announced Thursday that it has hit a snag in the development of CodeNext and delayed the release of its next draft of the sweeping zoning and land use plan by more than two months, likely setting back its potential approval and implementation.
Interim Assistant City Manager Joe Pantalion cited a need to more thoroughly parse feedback received on the second draft of CodeNext’s code and zoning map in his decision to delay the release of the third draft from Nov. 28 to Feb. 12.
“Today’s announcement is good for Austin,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement. “I’m glad the staff will take the time to deliver a good recommendation as I, and others, have urged them to do. I heard the community request we take our time to get CodeNext right and also to finally get it done.”
CodeNext is the city’s attempt to implement the recommendations of the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan by revising what type of development can go where. The effort aims to address many of Austin’s most vexing problems, including a lack of low-income housing, gentrification and traffic congestion, by rewriting the entire land use code and zoning map.
The delay is all but guaranteed to set back the City Council’s final approval of CodeNext, previously slated for April. Instead, the council will start its review of CodeNext in late April, with a vote to come sometime after that.
Adler’s office later added that the mayor might attempt to pass CodeNext in April, but that would only happen if the council received squeaky clean version of the code and zoning maps with few changes needed.
Other council members would not offer that glimmer of optimism.
“That’s not going to happen in my opinion,” Council Member Leslie Pool told the Statesman. “That won’t happen, and that’s OK. I would just reiterate the need to get it right than do it fast.”
Council Member Greg Casar said the second draft is highly flawed, as he says it incentivizes tearing down existing homes in some areas and leaves West Austin untouched. More time would allow the city’s staff to better address his concerns.
“It doesn’t seem reasonable for the council to pass CodeNext the same month it is delivered to us,” Casar said. “But at the same time, this isn’t about passing any new code. The current code is terrible. The second draft is better, but it is not good enough.”
Various community members with connections to the Austin Neighborhoods Council and board members of the Zoning and Platting Commission have for months been pleading with the city to slow down the CodeNext process. Both pushed for creating a third draft of CodeNext, an effort that was later taken up by Council Member Alison Alter.
When the council approved adding the new draft in June, it seemed likely to delay the project, but CodeNext staff and consultants soldiered on with an expedited timeline to sprint from the delivery of one draft, take it to various community and board meetings before returning two months later with a revised code and new zoning map.
That appears to have failed.
The delay could also affect the overall cost of CodeNext, which has swelled from $2 million to about $8.5 million. The latest cost increase approved Oct. 12 resulted in part from the council’s vote to add another draft.
Both those on both sides of CodeNext looked at Thursday’s developments as good news.
Mike Lavigne from Community Not Commodity, the nonprofit spearheading a petition drive to have CodeNext put on a ballot, said he was encouraged by the delay but still felt any “arbitrary” timeline was “dangerous.”
“It is encouraging seeing the timeline extended a little bit, but we have to make sure it doesn’t come at the expense of community input,” Lavigne said.
Cid Galindo, president of the coalition Evolve Austin, a group promoting the Imagine Austin plan, said in a statement that because CodeNext will affect the city for decades to come, it is important to get it right. But it is equally important to get it done.
“To be clear, any continuation of the status quo will only further deepen Austin’s affordability and traffic challenges,” Galindo said. “This must be the last delay. Austin has waited too long for a land development code that supports the vision of Imagine Austin.”
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