CodeNEXT 3.0 Includes Positive Changes but Much Work Remains

Evolve Austin is just beginning to digest the 1,574-page third draft of CodeNEXT.

We can say for certain that Draft 3 is better than our current Land Development Code in some respects, but there are clear opportunities for improvement as Planning Commission takes up this staff-recommended draft.

We continue to support a CodeNEXT that enables the City to finally implement the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. CodeNEXT still needs significant work if we are to buck a status quo of worsening traffic, skyrocketing home prices, and environmental degradation due to sprawl.

Positive changes in the third draft:

●       The expansion and recalibration of the density bonus program will enable more affordable housing to be built in more areas of the city. The program needs more fine-tuning, but CodeNEXT 3.0 takes positive steps in the right direction.

●       Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and duplexes would be easier to build in residential areas.

●       Minimum lot sizes have been reduced, allowing for more efficient land use and correspondingly lower-priced homes.

●       Elimination of the site plan requirement for residential developments of six units or less opens the door for more affordable housing choices, such as Missing Middle housing, that were previously too costly and difficult to build.

●       Minimum parking requirements have been reduced throughout the city, reducing housing costs and encouraging multi-modal transportation options.

●       Non-zoning design standards, such as building articulation requirements, that reduce our housing capacity have been greatly decreased or eliminated.

Barriers that remain:

●       Missing Middle housing is still missing. While there are positive changes in the new draft that would make Missing Middle easier to build, there are far fewer areas on the new map where this type of housing could be built. We need this diversity of density to improve equity and opportunities for everyone to live in our neighborhoods and allow more people to live near their work and transit.

●       Most major transit zones lack transition zones to ease the shift from corridors to the neighborhood core. This greatly reduces overall housing capacity and affordable housing capacity. It also makes it much more difficult to get the overall density needed near the Imagine Austin corridors to support robust transit.

●       High density residential development along corridors is still unlikely due to restrictive development standards, such as height limitations.

●       The City needs to add more robust incentives to entice more private developers to participate in its S.M.A.R.T. housing program. The latest draft continues to rely on fee waivers, which aren’t enough to offset the rising cost of providing income-restricted housing, and appears to eliminate expedited permit review as an incentive.

CodeNEXT clearly remains a work in progress.

Evolve Austin — a diverse coalition of more than 30 civic-minded organizations representing environmental, transit and affordable housing advocates as well as business groups — remains committed to this collaborative process. We will be presenting specific, constructive suggestions for improving the code to better provide the City with the tools it needs to implement the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan in the coming weeks. We encourage all sides in this critical process to do the same.

CodeNEXT White Papers Released

Evolve Austin is a data-driven organization that is committed to working collaboratively with our community to improve Austin’s new Land Development Code so that it better aligns with the goals and principles of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

To that end, volunteers from our 30-member coalition spent hundreds of hours carefully reviewing CodeNEXT 2.0 and developing specific recommendations to improve the code in specific areas:

Each of the above white papers represents our best effort at providing specific recommendations to improve Austin's affordability, transit accessibility, permitting, planning, and environmental outcomes through CodeNEXT - the rewrite of our Land Development Code.

We hope to see many of these changes incorporated in CodeNEXT 3.0, due to be released Feb. 12, and will continue serving as a resource throughout this important process.

Much ADU About Affordability

Much ADU About Affordability

The high cost associated with constructing and permitting an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) under the existing code severely limits ADU construction and poses a barrier to the City’s affordable housing goals. To remove these financial and regulatory barriers, Evolve Austin proposes following recommendations be included in CodeNEXT >>

Evolve Austin Transit Study Released

CodeNEXT Needs Additional Density on Corridors to Support Transit and Achieve Imagine Austin Mobility Goals

Building a more robust mass transit system is critical to solving Austin’s mobility challenges, but Austin’s sprawling development makes successful mass transit impossible today.

Imagine Austin recognized that land use and mobility are intimately linked, envisioning a more compact and connected city that can only be achieved by changing our Land Development Code.

CodeNEXT remains a work in progress, but a new Evolve Austin Transit Study reveals that there is much work to be done if Austin’s new code is to enable the concentration of residential and commercial development near major corridors that is critical to mass transit success.

Using the respected and oft-cited Puget Sound Regional Council’s literature review of densities required to support Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the Transit Study examined the relationship between high-capacity transit ridership and the allowable housing/job densities within a 5-10 minute walk of the 35 corridors identified by Imagine Austin as potential high-capacity transit routes.

The study found that the first version of the proposed CodeNEXT would only allow the minimum 17 people and jobs per gross acre required to support BRT in just nine of the 35 corridors, meaning that 75 percent of the transit corridors Imagine Austin established would not effectively support high-capacity transit under the current draft of CodeNEXT.

Anderson Lane, Jollyville Road and Airport Boulevard were identified as the biggest missed opportunities to achieving transit-supportive density based on the concentration of housing and jobs there currently; the minimum additional density required to cross the transit-supportive threshold; and the low impact of the proposed zoning in the first draft of CodeNext.

Braker Lane, Springdale Road and Jollyville Road experienced the lowest impact overall when the proposed zoning was compared to the zoning currently in place.

Successful public transit systems must have a minimum density of people and jobs along the corridors they serve in order to operate efficiently and generate a sustainable amount of ridership. Austin has the population, power and desperate need for transit to succeed.  What we’re lacking are the appropriate tools for success to materialize.

This study shows that the proposed CodeNEXT, which is critical to achieving Imagine Austin’s goals, needs to go much further to allow the minimum number of households and jobs required near major corridors to support the robust mass transit system that is vital to get Austin moving again.

As we near the public unveiling of the much-anticipated second draft of CodeNEXT, we strongly urge city leaders to make the changes to CodeNEXT necessary to achieve Imagine Austin’s mobility and sustainability goals before it’s too late.

Commentary: CodeNEXT Puts the People's Plan into Action

Over the next 25 years, our region is expected to double in population. For those of us who have witnessed Austin’s growth over the previous two decades, that statistic gives us pause. It also raises a fundamental question at the heart of nearly every debate at City Hall: How do we balance the need to expand economic opportunity with our duty to preserve what is unique and wonderful about Austin?

NEXTCITY: Are entrepreneurs a better government investment than corporations?

NEXTCITY: Are entrepreneurs a better government investment than corporations?

According to a report by Michael Mazerov and Michael Leachman with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, cities should consider investing in local entrepreneurs rather than focus solely on tax breaks and subsidies for large out-of-state corporations. Rather, the report suggests that most jobs are created by in-state businesses, including startups and entrepreneurs. In the end, the authors recommend economic development policies that support these kinds of businesses.

Texas Observer : Some state legislators want to keep affordable housing out of their districts

Texas Observer : Some state legislators want to keep affordable housing out of their districts

Diverse options for affordable housing are a key tenet of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. As the Texas Observer points out, NIMBYism can show it's face in so many ways, going so far as the desire by some State Legislatures to keep affordable housing options out of the backyards of more affluent neighbors. We've been through this before, and it never was and is not any kind of pathway forward towards the Austin and the Texas we all want to live in.

Evolve Austin opposes proposed city staff changes to "small lot amnesty"

This Thursday, City Council will consider an amendment to City Code that would curtail the use of Small Lot Amnesty to provide more affordable housing options in the urban core where such options are badly needed.  

If we're going to realize on the Imagine Austin vision of a compact and connected city that is accessible and affordable to a broad range of people and income levels we'll need to get more housing on less land.  Small Lot Amnesty is an infill tool that can be opted into by neighborhood plans that permit homes to be built on lots smaller than the Austin minimum lot size, if they were originally legal platted lots.  For a full description, please see our article here.  

In January, we wrote to Council with the letter posted below explaining our reasons for opposing this change.  

Ultimately, we'll need to address lot size as part of CodeNEXT.  In the meantime, this change strikes us as moving in the wrong direction, away from our comprehensive plan.  We encourage Council to send a strong signal to staff that they do not support items that move us away from the goals of Imagine Austin and keep Small Lot Amnesty, as currently drafted, as an option for neighborhood plans.

Texas refuses to follow fair housing rules

Texas refuses to follow fair housing rules

The Supreme Court has recently affirmed that communities cannot relegate affordable housing into the poorest neighborhoods. Everyone should have access to housing in areas with good schools, transportation, and jobs. Even though the case that lead to the Supreme Court's decision originated in Texas, our State Legislators are able to veto affordable housing projects in their districts. Unfortunately this affected our community just last year with Rep. Tony Dale wielding his veto at the behest of a single Austin Council Member. If we're going to follow through on the Imagine Austin plan, our community can't be in the business of exclusion. 

CityLab: How music festivals shape cities

CityLab: How music festivals shape cities

Austin certainly has been shaped by its world famous music festivals - in both good and bad ways. From the public use of parks to the number of people visiting - then moving to Austin - music festivals like Austin City Limits and South by SouthWest are at the hear of change in Austin. CityLab interviews sociologist Jonathan R. Wynn about his new book, Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport to find out how festivals are shaping some of America's most dynamic cities including Austin.