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  • Writer's pictureMolly Becker

Post-CodeNext, City Council brings urgency to revising land-use rules

Updated: May 8, 2019

The City Council appears to be ready to move quickly in revising Austin’s land development rules, including determining the scope of the overhaul and firming up critical policy issues in the span of a month.

The council signaled its urgency during a work session meeting Tuesday, when members dived into their first discussion of rewriting the land-use rules since they shuttered the controversial CodeNext effort seven months ago.

The consensus agreed to Tuesday is for the council to take public testimony at its April 11 meeting and vote on vital land-use issues April 25. City Manager Spencer Cronk has asked council members to weigh in on whether the passage of new land development rules ought to be uncoupled from the process of updating the city’s zoning map. He’s also asked for their guidance on policy questions related to housing supply, encouraging affordable housing, parking requirements and housing compatibility.

“We have been hearing many of the same things for years now,” Council Member Greg Casar said. “So we can’t wait another six or seven years. ... We have to do what we can this year.”

The hope, Mayor Steve Adler said, is for the council to approve a zoning overhaul by year’s end. That would allow the council to shift its focus to transportation issues ahead of an expected bond election in 2020.

Efforts to overhaul Austin’s decades-old land development code began after the city adopted the comprehensive Imagine Austin plan in 2012. The overarching plan sought to address many of Austin’s problems, including a lack of low-income housing, growing gentrification and worsening traffic congestion. Over the next six years, the city spent $8.5 million on CodeNext. That effort ultimately collapsed after Adler signaled that it had become mortally wounded, felled by a divisive political climate.

Under the new process for a rewrite, the City Council will make policy decisions ahead of drafting any new code.

In broad terms, Cronk has asked council members whether they favor limiting code updates to individual amendments; staying the course with a comprehensive scope that’s similar to that of CodeNext (but adopting a zoning map separately); or going beyond what city staffers recommended in CodeNext’s scuttled, final draft.

“I’m certainly prepared to have us do that work in the month of April and get us in the drafting process as soon as possible,” Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said.

While Flannigan said he was ready to start discussing zoning policy now — the council member tweeted during Tuesday’s meeting that he was “positively giddy” about restarting the rewrite — other council members said they wanted to let the public weigh in once again before any votes are taken, even if that input might not include any dramatically new thoughts.

Jeff Jack, former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, told the American-Statesman that the council needs to develop a whole new framework for the land-use discussions, one based on public input, before proceeding. Right now, any future action would remain tainted by CodeNext, he said.

“They are going down the same basic path,” Jack said. “They are proposing solving all of our problems with density. I’m very skeptical they will be able to solve any of that when they get into the weeds.”

Posted Mar 26, 2019 at 4:26 PM Updated Mar 26, 2019 at 6:39 PM

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