Final draft of CodeNEXT wants to make it easier to build granny flats, affordable housing

Cranes working on new buildings in downtown Austin on Sept. 19, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Cranes working on new buildings in downtown Austin on Sept. 19, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austinites had the chance to review the latest draft of Austin’s re-write of its land development code Monday. CodeNEXT’s third draft was posted online at 5 p.m., the same time the city hosted an open house to discuss the latest changes.

Austin’s land development code hasn’t been updated in 30 years. It affects everyone in Austin, setting rules for affordable homes, green infrastructure, mobility options and the character and look of neighborhoods. The third draft was originally set to be released at the end of November, but was pushed back to incorporate more public input.

City staff behind the third draft say it includes more development along corridors, makes it easier to build “granny flats” and sets aside more areas for affordable housing, among other described improvements.

More than a patchwork of colors and code, co-vice president of the University Hills Neighborhood Andy Sams showed up to look at how CodeNEXT will affect the fabric of his community.

“It’s that tension between growth, you know, how do we create opportunities for more people to live in our area and at the same time how do we help preserve some of that character,” Sams said. “It’s a really hot-button issue… You’re talking about affecting folks’ shelter, so I understand why people really get animated when it comes to these issues.”

Barbara Szalay says she likes what she sees in her area.

“This is very important. This is going to affect us for the next 25 to 30 years,” she said. “My concern this go around was that we had some district-owned parklands and greenbelts that had formerly been zoned rural residential – which meant that you could build on them.”

But it’s a different story in the third draft.

“Part of the Barton Creek greenbelt and Balcones Canyonlands were zoned residential and that’s been changed. So many of the needs of my community I feel have been met,” Szalay said.

Natasha Harper Madison is a community advocate in east Austin, trying to dissect what the new CodeNEXT draft means for the people she represents.

“Most of us, this is not our area of expertise,” she said. “We’re learning by way of drinking from a fire hose and YouTube and Google.”

Monday marked the first step in familiarizing herself with the changes — something that will take more than one night.

“What I came here to determine tonight was, can I take a look at what is being presented and disseminate that information in a way that’s substantive, in a way that’s meaningful, in a way that’s not coded. And as I’m walking away, I can’t necessarily say that,” she said. “I can say, unequivocally though, I am well aware that how we do land use and zoning currently does not positively affect the communities that I represent. Both from a residential and a commerce perspective.”

KXAN also spoke with a former council member who attended the open house, Chris Riley.

“This new code has been a long time coming, you know we adopted the new Imagine Austin plan in 2012 — we’ve been trying to get the new code in place ever since. And I’m hopeful that this latest code is going to be a significant step forward,” he said.

Riley admits the process has been a challenging and frustrating one.

“It just seemed like there were a lot of issues with both the language of the code and the map,” he said. “I’m hopeful that with those changes we’ll have something that we can all live with going forward.”

Within the last few days, the mayor and council members released wish lists of their own. The question is, does the third version hit on all of the big points? It’s something staff will discuss with council during Tuesday’s work session.

Click here learn more and give your feedback on CodeNEXT.

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