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.