City Council looks at revising land development code

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Austin City Council member Chris Riley listens to plans for CodeNEXT at a City Council meeting Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council heard Thursday from consultants and the public about CodeNEXT, a plan to revitalize the current city land development code.

In June 2012, the Council adopted a 30-year comprehensive plan for the city known as Imagine Austin, which calls for a new land development code. The city has been working in tandem with Daniel Parolek, owner of Opticos Design, Inc. Parolek presented three approaches to cleaning up current city code, informally named “The Brisk Sweep,” “The Deep Clean” and “The Complete Makeover.”

The City Council staff and Parolek both recommended option two, “The Deep Clean,” as the most reasonable approach to revise city code. The only difference between approach two and approach three, “The Complete Makeover,” is the timeline.

“What we’re thinking is that approach two timeline would be extended,” Parolek said. “Because we focused all our attention on approach two, we’re not sure how long it would extend. Approach three would probably extend the timeline of approach two due to the steady dismantling and rebuilding of code that would be much broader and more extensive.”

Parolek estimated that “The Complete Makeover,” approach three, would take at least six more months than approach two.

Council member Chris Riley said he can see both approaches two and three succeeding in the City Council’s goals to revamp the land development code, but he supports the third option.

“‘The Deep Clean’ looks like it’s coming down to the geographic scope of our effort; it would focus on Airport Boulevard and downtown,” Riley said. “The complete overhaul would put new measures in place across much broader areas in the city. With ‘The Deep Clean,’ the hope is if we can demonstrate some effective new code provisions in those areas, we would eventually see those improvements spread to other areas of the city, but that would entail a much longer timeline than if we were to set out to overhaul the whole code in the initial effort.”

Council member Kathie Tovo said she supports option two after hearing from staff and from the public.

“The fact that the consultants and staff recommend [option two] is compelling to me,” Tovo said. “They made it very clear that it would be more expensive and take more time to take option three. Option two sounds like it makes the best sense and that it is a balanced and reasonable approach. It allows us to introduce new elements into the code, but it also preserves some of the environmental protections our existing code has.”

Riley said completely redoing the existing land development code is necessary to accommodate student housing needs.

“We have issues with a lack of affordable housing options today, and that especially impacts students who are often in a position of trying to find affordable housing in the central city,” Riley said. “If we are successful, then we should see a much greater supply of housing options that would meet students’ needs. Students have a lot at stake in how well we do at fixing our current code.”

Tovo said option two would address student housing needs just as well. According to Tovo, the city should focus on enforcing existing density bonus programs instead of rewriting the entire land development code to benefit those who need affordable housing.

“It’s going to clarify the code; it will make it easier to use whether it be affordable housing or market rate,” Tovo said. “Our best ability to impact affordable housing is to have strong density bonus programs to require developers to provide that on site.”

The City Council voted to keep public hearing sign-up open until their next meeting on Nov. 6, when they will revisit the issue.