Land development code rewrite heads to City Council for final approval, marking home stretch of nearly 7-year process

Community members examine updated zoning maps at land development code town hall in October.
Community members examine updated zoning maps at land development code town hall in October. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Community members examine updated zoning maps at land development code town hall in October. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Fifteen months after City Council moved to kill CodeNEXT—the city’s five-year, $8.5 million effort to rewrite its land development code—the project, risen from the ashes, is set to return to City Council for final approval following the Austin Planning Commission’s Nov. 12 endorsement and recommendation of the revised code and accompanying zoning maps.

The planning commission—a council-appointed, volunteer commission that advises council on requests to change land use rules—approved the rewritten code 9-3 after months of deliberation and five meetings' worth of amendments and recommended changes. The new code required commission support before heading to City Council.

Planning commissioners made several adjustment recommendations to the code throughout their deliberations; however, many admitted not understanding exactly how all of their changes, when taken all together, would affect the final product. Commissioner James Shieh, one of Mayor Steve Adler’s appointments, said he hoped council and staff would be transparent about what the new code actually does.

“We don’t know how all of [our recommended changes] will start to work together,” Shieh said. “I hope council and staff will take what we’ve created and figure out how it all works.”

Commissioner Todd Shaw, appointed by District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, tried to delay the commission making any recommendation on the zoning maps until staff analyzed the potential effect of the commission’s recommended changes. Shaw called it “unfair” for the commission to vote on a zoning map when they had no idea what it would look like in the wake of their amendments.

“It’s crucial for us to see our work,” Shaw said.

Staff said they had not run an analysis on the commission’s changes and that such an effort would delay the process.

Commissioner Conor Kenny, appointed by District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, said it was important to understand the commission’s role in the process.

“We’re making recommendations to a council who is going to take them or leave them,” Kenny said. “Our current code has been a disaster for this city over the last 20 years. I feel good about letting something go that is not perfect because the cost of inaction is so high.”

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter’s appointment, Commissioner Patricia Seeger, echoed Alter’s voiced concerns about creating a climate where affordable housing will be built. Seeger said the proposed density bonus program—a voluntary incentive program that tries to lure developers into building affordable housing by offering additional building entitlements, such as increased height—would not be attractive to developers, and the city would lose affordable housing.

Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido, District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo’s appointee, said she was disappointed about what she perceived as a lack of anti-displacement and -gentrification measures.

“The city manager said this process would move at the speed of trust and I think this went off the rails,” she said.

City Council will take up a public hearing Dec. 7 and hold its first of three votes Dec. 9.
By 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 Su


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