The moderates on the Planning Commission

The other day I wrote a post about the changing definition of Austin liberalism that ended up becoming the most popular post in AustinPolitics.NET’s short history. Among those who responded positively was Planning Commissioner Tom Nuckols, who apparently appreciated that I referred to him as “leans preservationist but is not anti-CodeNEXT.” He said the following on ATXUrbanists:

This description is almost as much a badge of honor as my being sued by Ken Paxton. It’s exactly what I’ve tried to do on PC. We desperately need to change our code to facilitate density, but I steadfastly believe we can do it in ways that don’t harm neighborhoods. FYI, I’m persona non grata to many preservationists. I’m not pure enough for them. As least the urbanists are still talking to me.

Nuckols’ approach to development appears to be comparable to the Council Member Ann Kitchen, who appointed him to the panel. Kitchen also has a history of being deferential to neighborhood groups, particularly those in her district, but she does not live and breathe neighborhood preservation; she is far more comfortable talking about affordability and transportation. However, if I had to guess, I don’t think that Nuckols’ politics have much to do with Kitchen, whose appointee to the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP), David King, is a reliable vote against density and CodeNEXT.

In fact, with the notable exception of Karen McGraw, the preservationists on the Planning Commission are all pretty moderate. Besides McGraw, none of them have adopted the dire warnings about development/CodeNEXT that we see from Community Not Commodity,  Laura Morrison and City Council’s preservationist bloc.

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 12.29.45 AM
The new chair of the Planning Commission, James Shieh, often tries to seek a compromise.

If one accepts the urbanist premise that preservationists are conservatives, then the preservationists on Planning Commission are analogous to the now-nearly-extinct moderate Republicans who once upon a time were key players in national politics. In contrast, the preservationists on ZAP are more like the tea party; they’re really not interested in making policy as much as making a statement.

So while the preservationists on the Planning Commission labored for dozens –– or scores? –– of hours on amendments to CodeNEXT, the preservationists on ZAP summed up their view in a one-page resolution recommending the termination of CodeNEXT.

There have been and continue to be urbanist-leaning moderates on the Planning Commission. The best example was former Chair Steve Oliver, who left the commission after it finished up with CodeNEXT. He was replaced with former ZAP commissioner Yvette Flores, a state transportation planner who rarely speaks at meetings but typically votes with urbanists.

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