Can neighborhood plans be an urbanist tool?

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As I wrote shortly after the demise of CodeNEXT, just because City Council is giving up on a comprehensive overhaul of the land development code does not mean there aren’t ample opportunities to allow more density throughout the city.

From a policy perspective, it makes sense to do a comprehensive code re-write every once in a while. But politically, more discrete routes that do not lend themselves to yard signs and petitions might be more effective at actually accomplishing the goals.

One way to do this is through the neighborhood planning process. “Neighborhood plan” is a dirty word among urbanists, who view it as a way for neighborhoods to put up barriers to housing and transportation connectivity. Planning should be done citywide, not neighborhood-by-neighborhood, they would say.
However, neighborhood plans don’t have to be super-conservative. And Council has the ultimate say on what goes into a plan. So naturally, neighborhood plans are one way to try to advance the housing and connectivity goals.
And yet, Adler appeared on Tuesday to shoot down a proposal by the urbanist crowd on Council to make the proposed North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Plan a tiny bit more urbanisty. As I wrote in the Monitor:
Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said that he would seek to change the wording. He is not opposed to the plan emphasizing that the neighborhood would be dominated by “house-scale” buildings, but he does not think that the buildings should have to be single-family homes. They should also include other types of “missing middle” housing, he said, such as duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.

Flannigan, the only renter on Council, noted that he lived in a “house-scale” duplex himself.

“It looks like a single-family home that I frankly couldn’t afford to live in, in the rest of my neighborhood,” he said.

But from the looks of it, Adler doesn’t want to touch density with a 20-foot pole.

Mayor Steve Adler tried to stake out a middle position. He suggested that he supported approving the neighborhood plan as proposed and that the debate over density might be more appropriate for a “much longer conversation” about citywide changes to the Land Development Code that he has asked City Manager Spencer Cronk to consider in the wake of CodeNEXT’s demise.

If Adler just doesn’t want to deal with contentious development issues before the election, that’s fine. The election is only a two-and-a-half months away and his reluctance to take strong positions on those issues won’t have much impact in the meantime.
Kitchen, of course, doesn’t have an election opponent, so she should feel free to vote her conscience, whichever way that leads her.
The question is what happens after the election. Of course, a lot of that depends on what happens in the elections. The results of all of the contested races –– D9, D8, D3, D1 and the mayor’s race –– will all affect how the Council approaches growth in the coming years.

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