Gameday is finally here. City Council’s lone agenda item tomorrow:
Discussion and possible action regarding a comprehensive revision to the Land Development Code, commonly referred to as ‘CodeNEXT,’ relating to the regulation of land use and development in the City of Austin and its extraterritorial jurisdiction, together with related actions and City Code amendments. (No public comment will be taken).
The parenthetical is the best part. Amateur hour is finally over.*
That’s not to say that the exhaustive process that the Planning Commission undertook on its CodeNEXT recommendation was insignificant. If CodeNEXT is an MLB prospect, the Planning Commission is the minor league pitching coach preparing him for the big leagues.
It’s up to Council to decide not only whether CodeNEXT passes but what CodeNEXT is. Will the new code be as transformative as urbanists hope and neighborhood associations fear? Above all else, I’ll be watching the two moderates on the dais: Mayor Steve Adler and CM Ann Kitchen. They have framed their position as one of compromise, boosting the housing stock along the corridors while preserving the aesthetic character of neighborhoods.
Over on the old Council message board, some of the Council members are previewing their arguments.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and CM Leslie Pool, the two staunchest neighborhood preservationists, released a joint statement highlighting passages from Imagine Austin, the city’s comprehensive plan (which is supposed to guide the code), that emphasize neighborhood character and neighborhood plans. For instance:
“Continued protection and preservation of existing neighborhoods and the natural environment must be considered top priorities of comprehensive revisions to the City Code. The consequences and impact of additional density and infill in existing neighborhoods must be carefully identified and analyzed to avoid endangering the existing character of neighborhoods and exacerbating community health and safety issues, such as flooding.
Ora Houston’s aide Chris Hutchins posted a message noting four topics that Houston would like to discuss, including “equitable distribution of housing density throughout the city.” Houston has said that East Austin has been asked to shoulder too much of the burden of new housing; some urbanists on the Planning Commission have tried to nip that narrative in the bud by explicitly exempting lower-income/gentrifying areas of the eastern crescent from some of the new provisions aimed at increasing density.
Kitchen posted a massive comment outlining all of the topics that she wants to discuss. She did not really tip her hand about how she’ll vote on controversial subjects. She emphasized the need to both increase housing and preserve neighborhood “identity.” Adler posted a similarly inoffensive comment outlining the topics Council needs to address.