The first text draft of CodeNEXT, the city’s long-awaited overhaul of the land development code, was released on Monday morning. As with any 1,100-plus-page document, it will likely take some time to digest. Community Impact Newspaper sat down with four of the code's architects Monday afternoon to discuss some of the biggest takeaways from the city's first official draft of the land development code.

Stakeholders were not informed about the document’s contents prior to its release

“No one saw the document before it was released,”said Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department, erasing any notion that the code’s release was dependent on the endorsement of any city officials, members of the public, business leaders or developers. As of Monday afternoon, there had been little feedback on the 1,100-plus-page draft.

“We have some very civically engaged people, but I think we’d have to wait until morning to hear any feedback,” Rusthoven said.

This initial text draft maintains Neighborhood Conservation Combine Districts, Neighborhood Plans and Local Historic Districts

There was some concern over whether the new code would do away with rules set forth by neighborhood conservation combine districts and neighborhood plans. NCCDs and NPs are tools the city has used in the past to preserve neighborhood character by either tightening or loosening existing zoning regulations without actually changing the zoning.

“That’s something that is really going to be apart of the mapping exercise,” Rusthoven said. “We’re probably not inclined right now to go in and undo all of those. They were done for a specific reason, and I don’t think those reasons have changed over time.”

Transects Zones are among the most aggressive additions to the new code

Transect Zones are form-based zones that loosen property use restrictions while tightening structure design regulations. This is the opposite of Euclidian Zoning, which maps out zones by use rather than structure design.

The code's experts said Euclidian Zoning made sense to use in the early 1900s when homes did not want to be placed next to industrial centers, but today’s vision of an efficient city places jobs, living quarters and shopping districts in close proximity of one another. Transect zones allow for that. According to Opticos Design’s John Miki, a head consultant on the rewrite, there were will still be parts of the city zoned Euclidian style, but transect zones will be more abundant.

Miki made it clear that Transect-6 zones, which are the most aggressive form of transect zoning, will be reserved for the downtown and places mapped for regional centers, such as The Domain.

Contact teams have the same roles in development planning and historic preservation

According to Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, the role of contact teams in development planning is unchanged at this point in the rewrite process.

“We’ve carried their role forward,” Guernsey said.

During the public outreach process that preceded Monday’s release, some city officials publicly inquired about what the new code would do to help in the fight to preserve the city’s historic fabric. According to its architects, the code's criteria for preserving historic structures remains unchanged.

Site plans with 3-9 units will only have to go through a residential review process

Previously, a site plan that incorporated 3-9 units was subject to a commercial review process, which was more tedious and required more paperwork. In the new code, the commercial review process is waived and replaced with a staff residential review of the site plan. According to Guernsey, this gives the plan an opportunity for a quicker green light.

Jorge Rousselin, development services process coordinator with Planning and Zoning Department and project manager of CodeNEXT, said the same standards will still apply to these site plans as before, but the process will be cleaner.

Biggest Takeaway from the initial text draft–it’s a tool box

The first code draft will serve as a toolbox, Miki said, that the code’s architects will use to map out zoning regulations throughout the city. Under the new format, Guernsey said the code reads in a way that is similar to the order of process one would follow in developing a piece of property.

Much of the standards for land development in Austin remain, however, this portion of the rewrite creates a streamlined user experience, which was one of the biggest pitfalls of the former code. According to Rousselin, this streamlined experience allows for “adjacent predictability,” which means it will be easier to not only understand what you can build, but what your neighbors can build as well.

According to Rousselin, this streamlined experience allows for “adjacent predictability,” meaning it will be easier to not only understand what you can build but what your neighbors can build as well.