Can Austinites find common ground on CodeNext?
Austin PBS affiliate KLRU-TV and other media organizations brought politicians and community members together Monday night for a discussion on the rewrite of the city’s land use code, which had generated plenty of acrimony in recent months.
The fiery rhetoric from all sides surrounding CodeNext has somewhat calmed since the city announced it would delay the release of a third draft of the code until February. However, concerns continue to smolder.
The informal discussion Monday revolved around five main topics:
1. Some parts of the city are speaking up more than others. Some who spoke Monday worried that neighborhoods such as Bouldin Creek and Zilker would see their concerns addressed, while minority-heavy neighborhoods in East Austin would continue to feel the effects of gentrification. “That is an inherit flaw in public engagement. It does come down to who has the privilege and who has the power to show up,” said Council Member Delia Garza, who represents the Southeast Austin district that submitted the least amount of comments on the first round of zoning maps.
2. Criticism of CodeNext is criticism of concepts. Mayor Steve Adler opened up the discussion by noting that when he is approached in public about CodeNext, the criticism he hears is about a document that is still changing. “There is no CodeNext to like or not like,” Adler said at the forum, moderated by reporters from KLRU, KUT, the Austin Monitor and the Austin American-Statesman. That will obviously change once the council receives the first staff recommendation of CodeNext next year.
3. CodeNext is a long document that no one has read, but the current code is longer. The fact that city staffers have delivered a proposed 1,344-page code that has continued to grow has ruffled many feathers. But one speaker pointed out the the current code — written in 1985 — includes 20,000 pages of amendments.
4. CodeNext won’t solve the affordable housing crisis. Of all the wide-ranging problems CodeNext aims to address, affordability is brought up the most often. While drafts of the code have called for greatly increasing the parts of the city that can participate in density bonus programs, which allow builders to add more units in exchange for keeping a certain number of them affordable, state laws have limited the city’s ability to mandate affordable housing through other tools widely used outside of Texas. “You’re placing a great deal of trust in a document that can’t do what is wanted with affordability,” said Cory Walton, president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association. “The market pushes that. I wish we could get beyond that myth.”
5. East Austin’s concerns over displacement have spread to other parts of the city. The house teardowns that exploded in East Austin in recent years have made their way into neighborhoods in and around downtown. “Our concerns over displacement are now shared by every resident of Central Austin,” said Daniel Llanes, an East Austin resident since 1997. Zilker resident Jeff Jack, who is the president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said if he sold his home now, he might make a profit, but wouldn’t be able to move into any home in his neighborhood.
Catch the discussion
An edited broadcast of the ATX Together: Decoding CodeNext will air Jan. 21 on KLRU-TV. Find the full video at www.facebook.com/KLRUAustinPBS .