With a unanimous vote Thursday, the Austin City Council killed off the ambitious rewrite of Austin’s land development code known as CodeNext.
The controversial project’s demise came with minimal debate as several of council members laid the blame for its failure on a convoluted process that generated widespread skepticism and criticism that ultimately doomed the yearslong project.
The final cost to Austin taxpayers for outside consultants’ work on CodeNext rings up at $8,466,520, according to documents from the city’s Planning and Zoning Department.
Even as the council shuttered CodeNext, which aimed to address many of Austin’s most vexing problems, including housing affordability, gentrification and traffic, council members looked for assurances that they had not wasted taxpayer money on the project.
“From my perspective, what we are talking about is a reboot,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said.
City Manager Spencer Cronk has been placed in charge of picking up the pieces of CodeNext and crafting them into a new approach to zoning issues. Cronk should come back to the council with his idea about how to move forward in early 2019.
Cronk said he will not abandon the work completed by consultants and city staffers.
“We will be using that information, but it might come out looking differently,” said Cronk, who started as Austin’s city manager in February.
CodeNext had appeared to be headed toward approval in late May and June, when the council first began reviewing the draft. Last week, though, Mayor Steve Adler signaled that he had soured on the project, blaming misinformation for torpedoing the enterprise.
Other council members soon followed Adler’s lead, with the four-member bloc of council members who appeared most in favor of CodeNext sponsoring a resolution to end the divisive project.
One of the resolution’s sponsors, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, said he remains concerned because the property values in his East Austin district continue to skyrocket. He said he had hoped CodeNext would bring in the housing supply needed to address Austin’s continued population growth.
But it became apparent, he said, that CodeNext was not going to make that happen.
“It’s not going to accomplish what we want, so we need to take a fresh look at it,” Renteria said.
A ballot measure related to CodeNext is still in place for the November general election. The proposed ordinance came about after more than 31,000 Austin voters signed a petition calling for Austinites to have their say about CodeNext and any future comprehensive rewrites to the city’s land-use code.
The council was set to vote on the ballot language for the CodeNext proposition late Thursday.
Counting out CodeNext
On Thursday, the City Council voted to bulldoze CodeNext, the proposed comprehensive rewrite of Austin’s land-use code. Here’s a brief recap of the controversial project:
2012: Austin leaders decided a land-use code rewrite would be central to the Imagine Austin plan. That rewrite became CodeNext.
$8 million: City’s cost to employ consultant Opticos Design Inc. Original contract was for $2 million and was amended five times.
18 months: Projected time needed to rewrite the city’s then-30-year-old zoning code after an October 2014 council vote set the overhaul’s scope.
1,574: Pages making up CodeNext 3.0, the final draft, released Feb. 12. This draft was more than 200 pages longer than the city’s existing land-use code.