Less than a week before the official release of the first draft that will eventually become Austin's new land development code, five representatives from the CodeNEXT Advisory Group met with the Austin Neighborhoods Council—a neighborhood advocacy group—to discuss what citizens should expect from the draft.

The 18-member CodeNEXT Advisory Group has been working for the past three years to give input on CodeNEXT.

"It is imperative that [the plan] is consistent with Imagine Austin, [the city's comprehensive plan]," said Jim Duncan, a retired city planner and CodeNEXT Advisory Group chairman. "If it’s not, then we need to start over."

Imagine Austin was adopted in 2012 and serves as the city’s 30-year vision, looking at growth in areas such as land use, affordability and the economy.

Duncan called the official timeline for CodeNEXT—which calls for the code to be adopted and implemented in 2018—"aggressive" and "ambitious" and stressed that it was "more important to get it right than right now."

The text version of the new land development code is slated to be released to the public Jan. 30, with an open house planned from 4-6 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Palmer Events Center. This will be followed by the release of a visual map draft in April so the public can see exactly how the code applies to different sections and neighborhoods in the city. Several council district public meetings will also be held following the release of the visual map draft.

The draft will then go through a series of reviews and possible amendments through the CodeNEXT Advisory Group, the city of Austin Planning Commission, the Austin Zoning and Platting Commission, and City Council. According to the official timeline, the code will be adopted and implemented by 2018.

Some members of the ANC questioned why the CodeNEXT process has taken three years to get this far and why it felt like there was a rush for adoption following the release of the draft next week.
"I’m very skeptical ... that we’re going to have a code that responds to all of the issues that we brought up over the years." —Jeff Jack, former CodeNEXT Advisory Group member

“I think the mayor wanted to get this thing rolling since we wasted so much time [since the process began],” Duncan told Community Impact Newspaper following the meeting. “I think he would like to do it before the next election.”

The next City Council election is in 2018, when Austin Mayor Steve Adler's and several council members' terms will be up for re-election.

Jeff Jack, a former CodeNEXT Advisory Group member, questioned whether citizens' comments were going to be reflected in the approved code.

"I’m very skeptical ... that we’re going to have a code that responds to all of the issues that we brought up over the years," he said.

Former ANC President Mary Ingle also questioned what has been done with the citizen comments collected over the past three years.

"If [ANC has] to review the code [draft]—and we’re going to—it takes a lot of time out of one’s life, and I don’t want to be doing some work that’s just going to go down into the big black hole," she said.

Duncan called the CodeNEXT process "prolonged" and "mismanaged" by the city.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of skepticism and distrust in this community with the process, period,” Duncan said. “I don’t think the city has done a very good job of diminishing that through the process. There’s a lack of transparency and secretiveness, which is not necessary because there’s nothing to hide.”

At its Jan. 11 meeting, the CodeNEXT Advisory Group drafted a series of tools to solicit feedback in the next two years.

"Austin is a diverse city, and we want the feedback we receive to reflect that diversity," the group wrote in the outreach plan draft.

The proposed tools include surveys, an online commenting form, a video and a revamped website.

Although the CodeNEXT Advisory Group has seen some member turnover, Duncan said he is proud of how hard the group has worked and how diverse the makeup is.

He said he is optimistic about the code but knows the path to CodeNEXT's implementation will be rife with challenges.

“There’s going to be a lot of bumps in the road,” he said. “This is Austin. We’re not a passive city.”