With two weeks to go before CodeNext lands in the hands of the Austin City Council, the two city commissions tasked with making final recommendations about the attempt to rewrite Austin’s land use and zoning code have veered in sharply different directions.
The embattled Planning Commission, which generally reviews zoning cases within Austin’s core, is painstakingly studying dozens of proposed amendments to CodeNext during marathon meetings that often stretch past midnight. On the other hand, the Zoning and Platting Commission, which looks at zoning cases outside of the city’s center, has essentially ended its review with one major recommendation: terminate CodeNext.
The relationship between these two boards has become fraught in recent months, when the Planning Commission has taken hits from activists and some City Council members who believe it needs to be reconstituted because its membership violates the City Charter. The commission’s ongoing cooperation with CodeNext staffers and consultants continues to feed the perception that the 13-member board is stacked with members who are pro-development.
Members of the Zoning and Platting Commission also have criticized the makeup of the Planning Commission while contending that Zoning and Platting is being treated as the second fiddle in the review of the city’s massive land use rewrite. Their complaints are tied in part to a provision in the City Charter that ultimately requires a CodeNext recommendation only from the Planning Commission.
“I do sometimes wonder whether our role is respected,” David King, a Zoning and Platting commissioner, said last week. “And, I just have to be frank, I question the Planning Commission. The membership of that commission not complying with our charter — that is fundamentally flawed right there, and it makes me wonder and worry about the recommendations they are making.”
On Monday, the Planning Commission met again to take up about 60 amendments to the CodeNext draft. Even as they have faced increasing criticism — and in the wake of Zoning and Platting’s recommendation to abandon CodeNext and pick up the pieces — three Planning Commission members held a news conference to tout amendments they believe will mitigate the redevelopment of affordable homes into “McMansions” and put in place protections they hope will slow gentrification in East Austin.
“I was very disappointed to hear about that decision” by the Zoning and Platting Commission, Angela De Hoyos Hart, a planning commissioner, said Monday. “I believe as citizens participating in this process, we’ve been tasked with presenting the best possible product to City Council when we are ready to hand it off.”
On Monday, the Planning Commission jumped into an oversized spreadsheet prepared by its chairman, Stephen Oliver, and proceeded to go line by line on suggested amendments to the code and vote them up or down. Oliver has said that the goal is to deliver a recommendation to the City Council before it holds its first public hearing on the code May 29.
Within the first hour, the Planning Commission had addressed such aspects as where bars might be legally built under CodeNext’s proposed expansion of Main Street zoning and where people could operate day cares. Even as staffers flipped through the massive spreadsheet — zooming from one spot of the code to the next — one developer noted that the process was less chaotic than he had expected.
Meanwhile, Zoning and Platting appears to be out of the picture, a fate that Bruce Evans, one of its commissioners, said the board brought on itself by recommending CodeNext’s termination.
“We could have and should have been working alongside the Planning Commission from the start,” Evans said.