Open Letter to the Mayor on CodeNEXT

March 14, 2017

Mayor Adler:

AURA is an all-volunteer grassroots urbanist organization focused on building an Austin for everyone by improving land use and transportation through policy analysis, public involvement, and political engagement.

While our members are still dissecting the initial CodeNEXT draft, we applaud City of Austin staff and consultants for a thorough community-engagement schedule. A robust city dialogue is imperative to realize the sustainable, compact, and connected city the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan envisions. “Change isn’t easy,” Imagine Austin reminds us, “however, the potential rewards will outweigh the discomforts.” To reaffirm the priorities vetted by Imagine Austin’s 30,000 hours of community engagement, an open dialogue around the benefits of Imagine Austin’s bold vision is critical.

Since its release, our membership and many community advocates have come together to vet the initial CodeNEXT draft against Imagine Austin and AURA’s CodeNEXT expectations. Yet, despite the hard work of City staff, AURA is unsure if anyone is listening.

On February 19th, the Austin American-Statesman quoted your estimate of how much of the city’s zoning will stay the same under the new code—“97%”—despite mapping not yet being released.

We’re eager to work with City staff, your office, and all of City Council to align the CodeNEXT process with established community priorities for compact and connected growth, but if we’re going to succeed in getting the code Austin needs, Austinites must have confidence that your office, and all of Austin’s leaders, are listening. Is the CodeNEXT outcome a foregone conclusion inside your office—an outcome that will change nothing and help no one? Or do we want a city that prioritizes household affordability and remedying Austin’s staggering walkability, connectivity and traffic problems?

There are many exciting plans and projects underway in Austin. The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department has developed a comprehensive Housing Plan that calls for more subsidized and market-rate housing solutions, including more missing middle housing. CapMetro just passed its Connections 2025 service plan which will drastically improve bus frequency and efficiency. The Austin Transportation Department is developing the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which will carry the goals of Imagine Austin into our transportation policy to ensure we prioritize a multi-modal city. And Project Connect is working with stakeholders and the community to envision high-capacity transit solutions. These efforts have engaged thousands of Austinites and the success of these endeavors depends on the success of CodeNEXT. We will not achieve our ambitious goals in housing and transit if we do not have a land use code that allows us to welcome more people into our neighborhoods and create transit-supportive density.

CodeNEXT is once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve Austin’s deep challenges and create exciting opportunities for the future. Austin is the most economically segregated city in the country, but a successful CodeNEXT could bring a sustainable, affordable and integrated future for Austin—an Austin for Everyone. Austin’s current land use code has left the city dramatically unaffordable. Economic segregation lacerates our city, leaving a deep wound dividing haves and have-nots. Austin needs a concerted effort to remedy the segregative land use policy underpinning our city, and we’re worried this may be impossible if you refuse to embrace reform. You were willing to Go Big in the “Year of Mobility”—Austin needs you to Go Bigger in the “Year of Affordability.”

Mayor Adler, do you think community input on CodeNEXT is a waste of time, since 97% of the city will be exactly the same?