Neighborhood advocates can breathe a sigh of relief.
The latest draft of CodeNext, released Monday, does not contain the kind of broad upzoning of neighborhoods that the previous draft of the new land development code had.
What those neighborhoods now show in the third draft is largely a one-to-one translation of what the current code allows. Many of the opportunities to add density in the city’s core neighborhoods have been eradicated.
To be sure, all of that could change once the Austin City Council gets its hands on CodeNext. But in the meantime, any fighting will be isolated to the two city commissions that will make recommendations on the code in the coming months.
CodeNext is the city’s attempt to implement the recommendations of the 2012 Imagine Austin comprehensive plan by revising what type of development can go where. The effort aims to address many of Austin’s problems, including a lack of low-income housing as well as gentrification and traffic congestion.
Gone are classifications that allowed the potential for as many as three housing units to be built per lot in central neighborhoods. In their place is a zoning classification that resembles the current single-family housing designations blanketing neighborhoods such as Travis Heights, Bouldin, Allandale, Brentwood and Crestview that only allow for two housing units per lot.
Draft two was largely seen as an “upzoning” to those neighborhoods. And in some cases, neighborhood groups actively worked to organize advocacy against CodeNext.
“There was a lot of displeasure with adding that extra unit in so many places, so we said that is really what is causing this angst,” said Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department.
More suburban neighborhoods also see a return to their current zoning in draft three, which does not allow for the construction of garage apartments or granny flats except on lots greater than 15,000 square feet.
Despite largely maintaining the status quo in neighborhoods, CodeNext consultant John Fregonese last week gave a presentation showing that draft three provides the potential for about 288,000 additional housing units, which is 13,000 more units than what was projected in draft two. The city staff said that is being achieved by offering mixed-use zoning areas along transit corridors where the current zoning code allows only business development.
“We needed to make up that density somewhere,” Rusthoven said in a meeting with reporters Monday. “People have said all along that they are fine with density on corridors.”
CodeNext 3.0 checks in at 1,574 pages, more than 200 pages north of the second draft.
The staff said part of that increase is because it now includes regulations for signs that needed to be checked against a recent Supreme Court ruling. And despite its length, Rusthoven said the latest draft is a more user-friendly document.
“I think it could have been shorter if we formatted it differently,” Rusthoven said. “There is a lot of information that is repeated over and over, but it also puts more information in the same place.”
As with the previous draft, this version of CodeNext reduces the parking requirements for neighborhoods and some businesses. Only one off-street parking spot will need to be built per unit instead of the two that are required under the current code.
The new code also aims to tackle one of the points of criticism raised in the second draft, that the city was giving away too much for free in its increased density bonus program.
Under the second draft, developers could build mixed-use projects on commercial corridors without necessarily providing affordable housing in return. Under the new draft, developers will be able to build mixed-use developments in commercial zones only if they opt in to a density bonus program, which allows developers to build more units in exchange for making some of them affordable or contributing money to an affordable housing fund.
The number of affordable units would be based on the size of the entire complex, not just the portion built beyond what the existing zoning allows. That will mean more affordable units being built or more money sent to the affordable housing fund.
Those fees are also being increased, the city staff said. Staffers did not have exact figures available on the fee increase Monday.
“It has been more attractive to take the fee in lieu,” CodeNext project manager Jorge Rousselin said.
Statesman City Hall reporter Philip Jankowski has covered the evolution of CodeNext as neighborhood groups, urbanists and other advocates pushed for changes in the way Austin grows. His reporting has shown which areas of town have provided the most feedback, how critics are working to put the issue before voters and why the tab for CodeNext continues to grow.
Visit CodeNext Hub at codenexthub.org for extensive coverage by the American-Statesman and other leading Central Texas news outlets. Follow us on Twitter: @codenexthub.