CodeNEXT Expectations

In line with AURA’s Platform for Austin, we expect that the items below will be seriously considered by staff and consultants while writing and mapping CodeNEXT. If AURA does not see substantial progress on most or all of these items, we will have no choice but to oppose the adoption of staff’s recommendations for CodeNEXT.

Small Area Plans are No Way to Plan a City // Neighborhood Plans, TODs, and corridor plans enable the most active minority to impose their will on a small area and shift all the external costs onto the rest of our city. That’s no way to plan a city, and the entire premise has been rendered redundant by the recent move to a geographically representative city council. CodeNEXT must shift from honoring the exclusionary small-area plans of our past to empowering a future for our entire city.

Dynamic Upzoning with Incremental Development // When an area is more than halfway to its maximum zoning capacity, the code should contain an automatic administrative procedure to increase that capacity. This process is similar to how cities have evolved naturally for centuries. We should future-proof our code and avoid continuing our current, highly contentious, lot-by-lot approach which favors the status quo.

Fair Housing and Household Affordability // Our new code must permit the population in our high-demand areas to respond to that demand. Every neighborhood must accept new residents and further Fair Housing. Staff should create Affordability Impact Statements which examine how the new code and its mapping further Fair Housing and contribute to Household Affordability, taking into account not just the cost of housing, but the costs of transportation.

Significantly Reduce or Eliminate Minimum Lot Size // Minimum lot sizes are an attempt to address wide-area issues by regulating an individual lot. Our minimum lot size is larger than any peer city in Texas and increases the cost of housing. We call for a minimum lot size of 1000 square feet, and reducing the minimum lot width to 15 feet.

No Unit Caps // Our current code limits the number of units that different kinds of zoning can have. We believe a detached building that contains multiple units but looks like a single-family home should be allowed in an area zoned for single family. Similarly, minimum site areas for multifamily zones impose a de facto tax on small, affordable, apartments. The code should govern the built environment, not the people who live within it.

Urban Core Zoned to No Less Than T-4 // The city of Austin has an established definition for the “urban core,” and has enacted policies such VMU and reduced parking burdens within those boundaries. As CodeNEXT will use a transect model, and the lowest transect suitable for urban spaces is T-4, “General Urban,” all developable land within the defined urban core should be zoned for at least T-4.

End Compatibility as Currently Practiced //Setbacks and height limits are our current attempts to regulate compatibility between varying uses. We should eliminate compatibility based on use, and understand that the nature of using transects manages “compatibility” automatically. Currently, compatibility requirements constrain lots in high-demand areas and prevent the development of needed housing.

Significantly Reduce or Abolish Parking Minimums // The Code Diagnosis found that we have a car-centric code, which encourages car usage and exacerbates our current traffic woes. Reducing or eliminating parking space obligations won’t mean that none are built — just as many as the perceived demand is. Consider adopting parking maximums to discourage the excessive construction of expensive parking structures which may be orphaned in the future.

Connectivity Required Everywhere // Revise the subdivision code to require integration of new subdivisions into the larger urban fabric. Reduce maximum block length and revise street design standards so that the most vital of public infrastructure serves all users, not just single occupancy vehicles. Conduct an audit of all Austin streets to determine areas of poor connectivity, develop a “Future Connectivity Map,” and produce an associated plan for implementation.

Replace Impervious Cover Regulations with Limits on Urban Runoff // Flooding is caused by runoff, not impervious cover, yet our code tightly regulates impervious cover in an attempt to mitigate flooding. Limitations on impervious cover are, at best, a highly imperfect proxy for potential runoff, and stifle creative solutions that may reduce runoff while permitting greater impervious cover. As such, blanket limits on impervious cover (and building cover) should be replaced with performance standards for maximum permissible urban runoff.

AURA’s CodeNEXT expectations were first shared with CodeNEXT staff in December 2015.