NEW: Austinites can see how draft code rewrite will affect them


10:25 a.m. update:

City officials rolled out new, sure-to-be controversial zoning maps Tuesday morning, allowing Austinites for the first time to see how the city’s 1,100-plus-page draft code rewrite will affect their neighborhoods.

The release marks a seminal moment in Austin’s three-year, $6.2 million sojourn toward a complete rewrite of its land-use regulations, the text of which was released in January.

“CodeNext is CodeNow,” said Mayor Steve Adler at a news conference announcing the release of the draft maps. “The maps being issued today make this seem even more real.”

The maps were posted online at codenext.engagingplans.org.

“It’s no small task to tackle this kind of challenge,” said City Manager Elaine Hart. “But, I think everyone agrees it’s long overdue for Austin.”

Tuesday’s roll-out of the maps will be followed by meetings in every council district over the next two months, officials said. The first will take place in District 3 at St. Elmo Elementary on Saturday at 10 a.m.

In the run-up to the release, city officials attempted to downplay the importance of the maps.

“Though there are some folks with a lot of anxiety about the first CodeNext map, all we know for certain is that the first map won’t look like the last map,” Adler wrote in a op-ed published by The American-Statesman over the weekend.

The fight over CodeNext is just the latest episode in the development drama that has consumed City Hall in recent years, as officials confront Austin’s booming population and housing shortage, which has driven rents skyward.

Last week, the City Council approved a new ‘blueprint’ that calls for the construction of 135,000 new housing units in the city by 2025, with nearly half targeted to serve lower-income families. City officials included adopting CodeNext as one of their 50-some recommendations to help speed construction of housing.

That ‘blueprint’ vote came three months after city officials released the text of the 1,100-page draft code rewrite sans maps, a decision they defended by saying it would allow the public to become familiar with the concepts behind the massive overhaul. Others said it left them to speculate how the proposed regulations would impact their blocks.

The new maps, consultants and city officials told council members Tuesday, could potentially provide another 143,000 units be built over the next 10 years, roughly in line with the city’s goal.

Under questioning from District 10 rep Alison Alter, officials said that existing zoning could allow for a similar amount of housing to be built but under a much longer time span — potentially 100 or 200 years. These new maps, the consultants answered, better matched proposed future housing supply entitlements where people want to live — and developers want to build.

The current land-use code has few friends. It’s more than 1,300 pages long, three decades old and has been amended more than 800 times, making it difficult to navigate. Developers say it’s filled with contradictions that make it nearly impossible to build efficiently in the city. Their frequent foe, Austin’s politically powerful neighborhood activists, say it is full of loopholes that allow developers to build projects that exceed what fits on those blocks.

However, the rewrite has also come under heavy fire — especially from neighborhood activists.

Most controversially, CodeNext proposes dividing the city into two different zoning system: One would look a lot like the system the city currently uses, separating residential from commercial areas, for example, which would apply to the traditionally suburban parts of town; the second is a far more prescriptive and designed to promote denser development in Austin’s core and along transportation corridors, a longtime goal of city planners.

Neighborhood preservation activists have attacked the second system — know as ‘transect’ zones — as a backdoor attempt to allow developers into Central and West Austin neighborhoods that have long opposed many densification efforts.

“This is upzoning,” said Mary Ingle, the president of the powerful Austin Neighborhoods Council in February, after the initial roll out. “They want our land and they want it cheap.”

Urbanists, builders and affordable housing nonprofits argue that denser development is a key component of any city strategy to provide housing for its booming population and to limit sprawl.



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