Skepticism reigns as city unveils second draft of CodeNext

Sept 15, 2017
Jorge Rousselin, development services manager with Austin’s Planning and Zoning Department, shows the new proposed zoning map Friday as the new draft of CodeNext was unveiled.

It seems like nobody likes CodeNext 2.0.

Friday’s unveiling of the second draft of the city’s revamped land use code began with Mayor Steve Adler praising staffers for their ongoing efforts, but then took a critical turn when, less than a minute later, Adler announced that he could not support the code at this time.

“This draft is not in a place where I can support it, but it is in a place that I can continue to work on it and feel good that we are headed in a new direction,” Adler said.

The new version of the code text and map show a more unified naming scheme. Gone are the labels of “transect zones” that had been applied to many central city neighborhoods, where the staff had sought to encourage density.

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

When asked, Adler declined to go into specifics as to why he could not support the latest version, because the new draft code text and map had just been released and his staff had not had time to peruse the entire 1,388-page document, which is more than 250 pages longer than CodeNext’s previous iteration.

“I just want to emphasize that it is not a final product at this time,” he said.

For the same reasons, representatives of advocacy groups on both sides of CodeNext expressed caution in going into what specifically irked them about the draft, but offered criticism nonetheless.

“I suspect it is just lipstick on a pig,” said Fred Lewis, an attorney who heads the Community Not Commodity neighborhood advocacy group. “It’s going to take us some time to go through mountains of gobbledygook.”

To that end, Community Not Commodity said it would have about 20 of their code nerds dissecting the code over the weekend and offer a more granular assessment on Tuesday. The group’s members have broadly been in favor of slowing down the CodeNext process and critical of CodeNext in general because they believe it favors real estate developers over individual residents.

The city’s zoning maps and land development code spell out what kind of development can go where — policies that can move the needle on the city’s traffic and affordability challenges, as well as the overall quality of life.

CodeNext is slated for approval by the City Council in April. Residents will have until Oct. 31 to comment on the second draft. Those comments and input from citizen commissions will lead to a third draft that will be the staff’s recommendation to the council.

INTERACTIVE: Browse CodeNext map comments

Evolve Austin board member Nicole Joslin was cautiously optimistic. Her group is broadly in favor of CodeNext promoting density in Austin’s central core while promoting affordability. Joslin said the code appears to enable the creation of so-called missing middle housing, which is essentially more affordable, but not subsidized, housing.

As part of the city strategic housing plan, the city has called for 135,000 housing units be built by 2025, with 65,000 of those for families making less than the median family income.

Last week, CodeNext consultants said the new version would create a greater potential for new housing to be built in the next 10 years. At first glance, Joslin said it appeared like much of that might be concentrated on the outer ring of the city.

“It does appear like a lot might be focused in the periphery,” said Joslin, who is also the executive director of the Austin Community Design and Development Center. “We’d like to see a lot more coloring in the Central Austin area and in West Austin.”