Austin council members divided on CodeNEXT progress, debate further funding and deadline extension

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Ahead of a Thursday vote, some City Council members expressed hesitation on Tuesday about authorizing another $2.2 million for CodeNEXT—the ongoing overhaul of the city’s land development code—and proposed delaying the project.

Some council members expressed uncertainty regarding the project’s progress and the value of the $2.2 million expenditure in moving CodeNEXT forward, even going as far as saying the project should be slowed down and the April 2018 deadline extended. However, other council members, while empathizing with their colleagues’ frustrations, disagreed.

The money would fund the completion of the third draft of the new land development code and accompanying zoning maps. The city released the second draft on Sept. 15. Although city council approved the funds when they passed the city budget in September, city staff needs to gain approval from City Council to spend the money. If approved on Thursday, the amount spent on CodeNEXT since 2013 would total roughly $8.5 million.

“We’ve got to do something. The status quo is eating us up alive.”

  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler

District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool voiced concern over how much the city was spending on consultants’ travel costs. The city has been working with a team of out-of-state consultants from firms like Opticos Design, Fregonese & Associates and ECO Northwest. The city has paid for their round-trip airfare from states such as California, Oregon, and Colorado, multiple times a month, for groups ranging from two to seven consultants.

Pool said the city should consider the amount of money being spent. She questioned whether the city was “running to the finish line” and potentially sacrificing the product’s quality on the way. She said extending the deadline to Winter 2018 or Spring 2019 could provide benefit.

“At this point, the timeline is hurting us,” Pool said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo supported a potential deadline extension, saying that many questions posed by her, and her constituency, remain unanswered. District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair said she remained unsure of whether CodeNEXT was accomplishing the directive set by City Council, and District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said she did not think the project has done a good job in advancing the vision of Imagine Austin—the city’s comprehensive plan.

District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler reinforced their support for maintaining the April 2018 deadline. Adler said although he wants to stay tethered to the April deadline, he would never vote for anything that is not a substantial improvement over the status quo. Although it is not the magic bullet, Adler said CodeNEXT is a crucial step.

“We’ve got to do something,” Adler said. “The status quo is eating us up alive.”

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Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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