For Immediate Release
AURA Statement on CodeNEXT Draft
January 18, 2017
On Tuesday AURA became aware of a leaked draft of CodeNEXT which was posted to Twitter over the holiday weekend. The document, weighing in at 327 pages, is massive, and yet also astonishingly incomplete (i.e. no sections on site plans, subdivision, drainage, etc). This is perhaps explained by the fact that it is largely dated June 2016. As such, we are hesitant to dig into the details. Limiting ourselves to a broad view, the draft is disappointing. We cannot stress enough that Austin is in the midst of an (un)affordable housing crisis; in conjunction with this crisis, the City’s own Planning and Development Review Department came under intense criticism in March of 2015. The City and its residents are in urgent need of significant policy change to reverse this trend. Unfortunately, it would appear that in this draft the staff and consultants have largely come up short in meeting the modest goals they set out for themselves in the Code Diagnosis back in May 2014.
The complexity of this draft is overwhelming. Not only would it not simplify our byzantine land use regulations, it would, in many cases, make them more convoluted. The transect zones regulate in extremely fine detail all manner of design in a way that is new to Austin. Given the difficulty the Development Services Department (DSD) has with our modest current design standards (e.g. Subchapters E & F), we can’t help but wonder what scale of additional resources will be required for DSD to review applications under the form-based code in a timely manner. The Code Diagnosis also specifically called out Austin’s layers upon layers of zoning as a problem, yet this draft contains dozens of pages on overlay zones, lifted almost verbatim from the existing code. The same goes for small area plans, a problem identified by AURA in our CodeNEXT expectations. The existing small area plans are essentially duplicated in this draft, instead of simply remapping them to the appropriate new transect zones.
Additionally, despite the problem of an auto-centric code being highlighted in the Code Diagnosis, this draft appears only marginally less auto-centric than our existing code. While the document lacks a full section on transportation, each transect zone defines parking minimums, and there is a parking section which appears largely identical to the existing code. That a draft produced as recently as June 2016 would even consider continuing our (ludicrous) current practice of requiring parking for bars is surely an error that will be corrected in the final code.
AURA is well aware that this document is an incomplete draft. We remain hopeful that there will be significant improvement when the final draft is released on January 30. However, we fear that in the nine months since this draft was issued, staff and their consultants have made the complexity problem worse, not better. For example, this draft contains 18 transect zones, but the staff and consultant presentation to the CAG on December 7th contains 21 transect zones. When it comes to land use regulation, less is more. Austin had no zoning ordinance for almost a century, and the first ordinance, in 1931, was just 20 pages long. That light hand produced great places like South Congress, Hyde Park and The Drag, and beloved institutions like Nau’s Enfield Drug. All are places that have been essentially illegal to build in their current form for decades now thanks the complexity of our land development codes since the 50s. On January 30 we hope to find that this draft has been dramatically pared back, both in scale and complexity. Less code will make Austin a happier, healthier, and more affordable city.
AURA is an all-volunteer grassroots urbanist organization focused on building an Austin for everyone by improving land use and transportation through policy analysis, public involvement, and political engagement.
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