Austin City Council prepares to hand off code rewrite to staff with April 25 vote

Austin City Hall

Austin City Hall

When Austin’s mayor and City Council members sit down to vote their position on five pieces of land-use policy April 25, it will be the most substantial vote on revising Austin’s land-development code the elected officials have taken since last summer, when they decided to back out of their initial five-year, $8.5 million rewrite effort.

That process, dubbed CodeNEXT, unearthed stark disagreements among neighbors and City Council members alike in how the city’s limited land should develop into the future. Although this latest attempt has not received a similarly official moniker, the disparity among policymakers in key issues have remained and became more obvious during City Council’s April 23 work session.

Austin City Council members will vote April 25 on the scope of the rewrite and thresholds they want the new code to hit related to housing supply and type, parking requirements and compatibility standards. However, the topic has proven sensitive—council members, among other points of contention at the April 23 work session, could not agree when to take up the April 25 discussion—and the mayor and council’s conversation is expected to be lengthy, with attempts at policy amendments abounding.

All the while, staff from City Manager Spencer Cronk’s office and the planning and zoning department will wait for the baton from the dais to begin devising a process and path for Austin to, after nearly seven years of debate, rewrite its outdated land-use policies.

Council members weigh in ahead of vote

On April 25, council members will be voting on a baseline proposal from Adler that says council wants city staff to build off CodeNEXT’s Draft 3, provide for more than 287,000 units in housing capacity, loosen regulations to allow a proliferation of housing types and missing middle housing, greatly reduce parking minimums and loosen compatibility standards.

And, have all, or at least a large majority of it, done and in front of City Council by the close of 2019.

District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria has said since the beginning the year that completion, rather than consensus, was his goal for the land-development code in 2019. Adler has joined Renteria and other council members, such as Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar and Delia Garza, in wanting something finalized by year’s end.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure this gets done at the end of the year,” Renteria said April 23.

Flannigan said he believes staff has already begun devising a process for the land-development code rewrite because of the urgency expressed by a majority on the dais. Flannigan said council has made clear its preference to get this done quickly before the close of 2019.

Other council members have exercised caution, prioritizing getting it done right rather than quickly. Following the work session discussion, District 10 Council Member Alison Alter pushed back against the majority of her colleagues.

“I prefer to take time to vet a proposal, but my colleagues want this issue completed,” Alter said. “I respect the urgency, but I believe government works best when we’re trying to solve problems, not creating new ones.”

Key disagreements

Several council members, from Paige Ellis in Southwest Austin to Ann Kitchen in South Austin and Kathie Tovo and Alter in the central and west sections of town, respectively, rejected the idea of blanket zoning the city to allow each property to have at least three dwelling units.

Each expressed concern, ranging from environmental to displacement and affordability. Ellis said her suburban district could not handle such an up zone, and Tovo and Alter said giving away such entitlements could hurt the city’s of strategy in requiring developers to build subsidized affordable housing and might accelerate the demolition of existing market-rate affordable housing.

Adler said he was unsure if giving developers the right to build missing middle housing—residential projects that typically include between two and 10 units—would hurt the city’s ability to use the entitlement as a carrot in persuading developers to build subsidized affordable housing.

Conversations of blanket zoning also highlighted council’s confusion over neighborhood conservation combining districts, or NCCDs, which are special zoning categories that codify unique development standards in specific areas of the city, such as Hyde Park. Garza and Flannigan admitted confusion over the utility of NCCDs, and City Council members were divided on whether the special zoning districts should remain untouched in the new code.

Flannigan said slicing and dicing the code only makes it more complicated, and he strongly supported allowing a minimum of three units per lot across the city.

Casar and Garza then presented guidance and criteria on how transition zones should be mapped throughout the city based on proximity to transit corridors, street connectivity, opportunity and location in the urban core. Transition zones are areas of a neighborhood between high-density corridors and more conservatively zoned neighborhood cores.

The proposal drew anxiety out of some council members who said it jumped the gun and that transition zones needed to carefully consider existing conditions on the ground. After the discussion April 23, Kitchen said although some transition zones could be mapped in the initial zoning process, she believes the code should provide flexibility to map the transition zones after the rewrite.

Flannigan said he was encouraged by the progress made ahead of the April 25 vote.

"Although we weren't coming to broad moments of consensus, we've set up this vote to really address these thorny issues," Flannigan said. He said he felt there was more agreement among council members than their tones may show.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


Valentina’s offers breakfast and lunch tacos as well as barbecue. (Courtesy Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ)
South Austin's Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ will move to Buda in next year

The business announced it will be moving within the next year.

Under the city of Austin's phased enforcement plan released May 10, citations at public encampments will begin in mid-June to be followed by arrests and clearances in July as necessary. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's homeless ordinances back on books May 11, but arrests, camp clearings won't start until July

Austin announced a "phased process" to introduce Proposition B ordinances beginning with one month of outreach followed by one month of warnings and citations before arrests or clearances begin as necessary.

Pfizer vaccines could become available to kids 12 and up as soon as next week. (Courtesy Adobe Stock/Graphic by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)
FDA expands Pfizer vaccine authorization to children ages 12 to 15 years old

This is the first time people under the age of 16 have been granted access to a coronavirus vaccine.

Butler Park Pitch & Putt reopened to the public in April. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Butler Park Pitch & Putt reopens in Austin; turf fields open in Pflugerville and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

I-35 traffic
State now accepting public input on North Austin I-35 overhaul project

The public now has the ability to review and provide feedback on planning materials for a $400 million I-35 project.

Austin Bouldering Project currently operates a gym on Springdale Road in Austin. (Courtesy Austin Bouldering Project)
Local rock-climbing gym to open new location in South Austin this fall

The new gym will have comparable offerings to the original in East Austin.

Tents have become a common sight throughout Austin including along Cesar Chavez Street downtown, but with the passage of Proposition B the city may now consider moving unsheltered homeless individuals to designated sites. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Hall notebook: Designated campsites for the homeless are back on the table

City staff had previously dismissed developing official camping locations in 2019, but new directives from City Council this week could revive the concept in Austin.

Wag-A-Bag is headquartered in Round Rock. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)
Wag-A-Bag to operate under new ownership, name; Austin, TxDOT at odds over I-35 overhaul; and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Austin area.

Stephanie Hayden-Howard will become an assistant city manager in Austin on May 10. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Role changes coming for health officials leading Austin-Travis County COVID-19 efforts

Dr. Desmar Walkes will take over as Austin's next medical director and local health authority as Dr. Mark Escott and Stephanie Hayden-Howard transition to new roles with the city.

The brewery and kitchen‘s new spot will offer a larger indoor setting area than its original. (Courtesy Suds Monkey Brewing Co.)
Dripping Springs brewery relocates to new, expanded facility closer to Austin

Suds Monkey Brewing Co. opened in Dripping Springs in 2017.