Austin City Council will have to agree on “specific policy guidance” around hot-button land use issues—such as housing density, parking requirements and building compatibility—before a new land development code rewrite is proposed, City Manager Spencer Cronk said March 5.
Cronk’s request comes seven months after City Council voted to kill the city’s five-year, $8.5 million effort to rewrite its outdated rules around how land is used in Austin. City Council tasked Cronk to come up with a process on how to move forward, which he had committed to bringing forward by February; however, Cronk’s new request has shifted the onus of initiative back to City Council.
That previous attempt to rewrite the land rules, a project known as CodeNEXT, drew sharp political lines between City Council and community members who supported housing density throughout the city as a means toward affordability and those who favored the physical preservation of existing legacy neighborhoods. Mayor Steve Adler at the time said hyperbole and misinformation led to his diagnosis of a “poisoned” process and proposal to scrap the project.
Now, Cronk said he wants City Council to agree on policy direction for some of the most contentious aspects of future land use before he can move forward.
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said she hopes City Council will refrain from “falling into camps” like it did during CodeNEXT. Last summer, Pool, with council members Kathie Tovo and Alison Alter and former Council Member Ora Houston, formed a preservation caucus on City Council to fight for the preservation of existing neighborhoods. Opposite was the four-member density-means-affordability caucus with council members Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria.
Flannigan said he was “incredibly excited” to kick off the policy conversations and have the ability to say up front what City Council wants out of the land development code, as opposed to a repeat of last time, when the rewrite went almost four years before coming to City Council.
Many in the community, including sitting council members, said the recent election of Natasha Harper-Madison in District 1 and Paige Ellis in District 8 swayed City Council away from a neighborhood preservation ideology and more toward a density-friendly majority, which could help loosen the stalemate City Council encountered during policy conversations last year.
Tovo emphasized the need for Cronk to provide a process for council to put forth policy direction, admitting the conversations may be challenging and that the city’s boards and commissions will have to weigh in as well.
Cronk said city staff is drafting a memo to lay out such a process, which City Council members will receive soon.