This post is part of a series on Imagine Austin's priority programs, in light of Austin's current CodeNEXT rewrite process. View the entire series here.
What is a zoning code, or land development code? It is a set of rules determined by a city that says what can be built, and what categories different pieces of land fall into. Many zoning codes restrict what types of uses each category can have. For example, “LI” means “Light Industrial” and can be used for various industrial purposes but cannot be used for commercial purposes (like a store). Zoning came about to protect people from living next to smelting plants and uses that might impact health.
CodeNEXT is the new form-based code (more focused on the looks than the uses) zoning program initiated by the approval of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan currently being developed by city-hired consultants (Opticos Design) and Planning and Zoning Review city staff, led by Program Manager, Jim Robertson. The goal is to simplify the current zoning code with tools (for example: missing middle housing, small area plans, and transects) to better fit form, texture, and context while suiting the needs of residents, neighborhoods, and businesses alike. To ensure the public’s participation in this process, Austin City Council approved a public feedback process which is currently ongoing.
The City of Austin’s Land Development Code Advisory Group (CAG) is composed of Austinites from all 10 Districts tasked to review and make recommendations to Austin City Council regarding the initial release of CodeNEXT in January 2017. Currently, the CAG is discussing code prescriptions regarding some of the community’s most pressing concerns including (recently released) Household Affordability, Natural and Built Environment, and (coming soon) Mobility, and Fiscal Health.
For the new form based code to be successful, CodeNEXT must incorporate such actions as zoning mapping that is city-wide with the implementation of new zoning tools applied to all neighborhoods. To reserve household affordability, the minimum lot size must be narrowed along the street width to accommodate greater population. New neighborhoods and infill developments must be designed for pedestrian traffic as the priority over automobiles. These goals are also in alignment with the city’s transit goals, including COA’s Vision Zero program for greater pedestrian safety. Not only that but they are key to implementing the other 7 priority programs of Imagine Austin, described in the rest of our series.
In the 20th Century, Austin’s zoning history has been one of runaway suburban-style growth to the present day where the city now resides in Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties. This exponential growth now threatens to endanger the city’s balance of community and connection as suburban texture negates social interactions for homestead isolation. It threatens our precious natural resources by forcing people to drive further distances to get to work or do daily errands. In the 21st Century, reinforcing and reintroducing urbanist principles through CodeNEXT is the only way to preserve Austin’s character expressed in our culture, people, and businesses.
In order for CodeNEXT to fully embrace the growing and affordability challenges facing Austin, the CAG must hear from you. Land Development Code Advisory Group meetings are scheduled for the first Monday of the month at 6:00PM. Please give ideas, feedback, and suggestions on their forum sponsored by the City of Austin at Speak Up Austin.