The Code debate begins

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 9.26.02 AM
Adler’s unsuccessful attempt to create a “team” mentality around CodeNEXT

On Wednesday evening, Greg Casar and Delia Garza kicked off the debate over the future of Austin’s land development code with a joint post on the City Council message board. In it, they provided responses to the five questions City Manager Spencer Cronk said he wants feedback on before city staff can begin drafting a new code.

You may recall, Cronk made his questions multi-choice, each with three potential answers. The first question was whether Council wanted to (a) adopt a new code but delay implementation of a new zoning map, (b) adopt a new code & zoning map or (c) just make a few changes to the existing code.

On the other four questions –– housing capacity, parking, compatibility, missing middle housing –– Cronk presented the following options:

A. Maintain the status quo

B. Whatever was proposed in version 3 of CodeNEXT

C. Something even more ambitious

In response to four out of the five questions, Casar & Garza picked the most ambitious option. There’s no point in sharing the response to each question, because each one pretty much said the same thing: we need to reduce regulations that inhibit housing in the urban core and encourage sprawl. This response pretty much sums up their argument:

The land development code should be rewritten and remapped as soon as possible. We need a code that allows us to be flexible and creative when addressing the diverse needs of our growing population. Concrete code and map changes should be made in 2019 to make the city more affordable, transit-friendly, and environmentally sustainable. We recognize that all the work that needs to be completed on our code cannot all be done and perfected in a single year. Therefore, for major changes to be made in 2019, the Manager and Council should prioritize “all types of homes for all kinds of people in all parts of town” (our Strategic Housing Blueprint goals) and a development pattern that supports 50/50 Transportation Mode Share by 2039.

The one issue that the two did not pick Option C on was compatibility standards. They restated their focus on putting in place whatever regulations will allow the city to meet its housing goals, but suggested they were open to debate on whether the result should be closer to Option B or Option C. 

I think the caution on compatibility makes sense. Whereas minimum parking requirements and single-family zoning are inherently regressive, reasonable compatibility standards could be a part of a code that facilitates multi-family housing and transit-supportive density. The problem with the current standards is that it’s one-size-fits-all: if there’s a single-family home within 200 ft of your project, you can’t go higher than 50 ft, period.

What’s interesting is that so far Casar & Garza are the only two to provide answers to Cronk’s questions. I expected the anti-density CMs to be reluctant to answer the questions, given that it somewhat forces them to admit they prefer that they support the status quo. But I’m a little surprised that we still haven’t from the three other density-friendly CMs: Renteria, Harper-Madison and Flannigan.

Eventually, however, the others are going to have to take a position. It will be interesting to see what happens…

Subscribe to the APN newsletter for DAILY insider analysis of local politics & policy that you won’t find on this blog or elsewhere in Austin media. 

One thought on “The Code debate begins

Leave a Reply