‘Terminate’ CodeNEXT? Austin land-use commission recommends canceling five-year effort

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After five years and $8.5 million spent to rewrite the city’s land development code, an influential land-use commission voted Wednesday that the CodeNEXT process was broken and should be terminated.

Citing community opposition, general distrust, critiques on the neighborhood planning process and a new city manager, the Austin Zoning and Platting Commission voted 7-4 to recommend the city “immediately terminate” the CodeNEXT project.

The recommendation comes just weeks before the City Council is scheduled to deliberate over the effort’s final product.

Rather than move forward with CodeNEXT, the land-use commission recommended the city digitize the existing code; identify the code’s top 10 problems and direct the city manager to address them; minimalize displacement; provide affordable housing and implement disincentives against the demolition of housing valued at $300,000 or less.

An irreparable product?

“The commission wanted to make a statement … the process is fatally flawed, and so is the product,” Commissioner David King said.

The zoning and platting commission was created to advise the council and take action on zoning and land-use issues for areas of town not operating under a neighborhood plan. CodeNEXT has been center stage for the commission long before the first draft was released over a year ago.

Jolene Kiolbassa, the commission’s chairwoman, said she thought the code was irreparable.

“I don’t see what kind of recommendation I could have made,” Kiolbassa said. “[CodeNEXT] is bad, and I don’t know how to dress it up to make it palatable.”

Questions of efficacy

District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said the move calls into question the “efficacy” of the commission.

“If [the zoning and platting commission is]declining to participate in the zoning matter then we need to reconsider the commission structure under which we proceed with zoning,” Flannigan said. “I remain committed to not giving up on CodeNEXT.”

Commissioner Bruce Evans voted against the recommendation to terminate the project. He said the move essentially takes the zoning and platting commission out of the CodeNEXT conversation.

Commissioner Sunil Lavani also voted against the measure. However, he said he plans to continue in the CodeNEXT process and submit recommendations to the planning commission, which is scheduled to submit final recommendations to the council by the end of the May. City Council deliberations are scheduled to begin in June.

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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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