Affordable housing leads council’s first meeting on CodeNext 2.0

Sept 20, 2017
Clifton Bailey holds a small sign at an event last week hosted by IndyAustin, a new political action committee that is organizing a petition drive to hold a voter referendum on CodeNext.

The Austin City Council took its first public look under the hood of the second draft of CodeNext on Wednesday during a work session peppered with questions about what the new code would do to affordable housing.

City staffers and consultants say this most recent version of the code helps create more of “missing middle” housing than both the first draft of CodeNext and what’s on the books now. It also would open more land to density bonus programs that give incentives to developers to build affordable housing, they said.

CodeNext is an effort to rewrite the city’s land use code in response to the Imagine Austin plan, which called for denser development around the city’s transit corridors and activity centers. The undertaking seeks to address some of Austin’s most complex and serious problems, such as the affordable housing crisis and heavy traffic.

RELATED: Skepticism reigns as city unveils second draft of CodeNext

The new draft would create about 10,000 more affordable housing units than the first draft. And it would also open about three times as much land in Austin to density bonus programs.

More specific amounts of affordable housing per council district were not available. But one presentation showed that Council Member Ora Houston’s district, which covers parts of East and Northeast Austin, would see more development than any other, with about 32,000 new units of housing by 2025.

“I wasn’t surprised, but it was such a glaring starkness” compared with other districts, Houston said.

On Friday, the city’s staff unveiled the second iteration of the code’s text and zoning map. At the time, Mayor Steve Adler said the latest code was a step in the right direction, but it needs much more work.

IN-DEPTH: Central Austin dominates CodeNext discussion as second draft looms

At Wednesday’s work session, the council’s first meeting since the drafts were released, the council members were treated to presentations from CodeNext’s two lead West Coast consultants, Opticos consultant John Miki and John Fregonese from Fregonese Associates.

Miki said that a lot of the input they received after the first draft of CodeNext was released was related to rules on building accessory dwelling units — things like garage apartments and granny flats — under CodeNext. Many were worried about rules that seemed to show people could build such units of up to 1,100 square feet.

Miki told the council that such sizes would only be permitted on a narrow scope of properties.

CodeNext is slated for approval from the City Council in April. Before that, the map and code will be revamped once more before staffers send their final draft to the council later this year.

RELATED: How CodeNext maps could forecast change for two Austin neighborhoods

Outside the meeting room, a few dozen members of the public had arrived for an open house of sorts with maps of each City Council district showing — in varying shades of red, pink, yellow and orange — the before and after of the zoning code maps, from the current code to CodeNext 2.0.

Sue Petrella, an independent investor, stared at the map trying to pinpoint how zoning might change for a property she was considering buying in East Austin.

“A plus for opening their doors and communicating to the public, but it’s still really confusing,” Petrella said.