Recap: ABoR Forum: CodeNEXT

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It was a packed house at the ABoR Forum: CodeNEXT last week. Speakers and panelists provided their insight on one of Austin’s most important topics—the Land Development Code.

Speakers
Greg Guernsey ­- City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department
Chris Riley ­- Former Austin City Council Member

Moderator
Mandy De Mayo - Executive Director, HousingWorks Austin

Panelists
Julie Cowan - AISD Trustee, District #4 and Secretary
Jose “Chito” Vela III - City of Austin Planning Commissioner
Nicole Joslin - Director, Austin Community Design and Development Center

Initial reaction to the Draft Code

CodeNEXT Advisory Group volunteer and moderator, Mandy De Mayo opened up the panel discussion by asking the panelists’ initial impressions of the draft code so far. Jose “Chito” Vela III showed clear disappointment in the maps, which were released Tuesday, April 18.

“I was expecting something transformative and we didn’t get that. It looks more like a re-write and I don’t believe this will produce dramatic change across the city,” said Vela.

With the release of the new maps, uneasiness has grown among residents and business owners as to whether positive change will occur with the new code, as it looks oddly similar to what is in place now. With years of rapid growth and low inventory, Austin residents have seen first-hand the effects of our housing affordability crisis. Not having a substantial revision since the 1980’s, the Austin Land Development Code is long overdue.

While CodeNEXT is an opportunity to put Austin on the right track for healthy growth management, Chris Riley believes, organizationally, the new code poses a problem for the city. During the forum, Riley displayed infographics and charts highlighting resident perception of Austin. Surprisingly, while most Austinites appreciate fair quality of life, less than half feel the city is a good place to retire. Riley attributed this in part to the lack in the city’s growth planning.

The draft code proposed by city staff is complicated and difficult to comprehend but Riley believes with effort from the REALTOR® community, positive changes can be made.

“The hope is that with a new code that is well organized and clear, both staff, users, and people in your position will be able to make sense of it,” said Riley. “We really have to stick with this, get it right, and only you all can help us get there.”

The code’s impact on Austin Independent School District

Over the last five years, AISD has lost about 3,000 students. Some of those students have switched to charter schools, but many have relocated to surrounding districts where they have found more affordable housing. These areas include Pflugerville, Del Valle, Manor, and Bastrop. Educators are also finding it challenging each year to live within the school district, adding longer drive times to their morning and afternoon commute. Julie Cowan believes this is one of the reasons AISD hires over 800 teachers a year.

Cowan fears that more students will be lost over the years if changes in the Land Development Code aren’t implemented.

“When we lose those number of students, we lose the dollars that we get to keep and we can’t keep running inefficient schools,” said Cowan. “Nobody wants to close schools.”

AISD is hoping CodeNEXT can look at the parts of town where schools are low in numbers and input more affordable housing for families.

What is family-friendly housing?

Accessory dwelling units (ADU), such as apartments and granny flats, are housing types the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC) currently produce and are hoping to build more of since they provide more affordable housing and generate rental income for homeowners. ACDDC works closely with homeowners and community development corporations to build ADUs and is active in pushing for additional “missing middle” housing types. Current land use regulations promote single-family and large multi-family complexes, but don’t allow for much “missing middle” housing types, such as ADUs, duplexes, and townhomes.

“The new transect zone requirements pretty much push accessory dwelling units into ‘if you want to do two bedrooms, you must do two stories,’ which doesn’t provide a lot of long-term flexibility for accessibility,” said Nicole Joslin. “I think it’s a mistake to not allow 2-bedroom, single story dwelling units.”

Single story dwelling units allow families to stay put long term as their needs change. Joslin gave an example of a teacher renting an accessory dwelling unit. As time goes on, that individual may raise a family or may want to house elderly family members. ADUs are a great option for those circumstances rather than the individual being forced to locate other housing options. With the revision of our current code underway, ACDDC and other affordable housing organizations are hoping to see changes that allow for more diverse housing options.

What’s next for CodeNEXT?

With all this information, you may be thinking, what can I do? ABoR CEO, Paul Hilgers encourages REALTORS® to be soldiers, ambassadors, and informers on the Land Development Code. The initial step, according to De Mayo is to educate yourself. Throughout the month of May, districts will host Open House Mapping meetings to discuss what the code means for its current and future residents. The draft Land Development Code will be edited based on the comments you provide through the online comment tool and public meetings. You can learn more about how ABoR is engaging in CodeNEXT by emailing CodeNEXT@ABoR.com. Take advantage of these avenues where your feedback can make a difference and visit the city’s site to learn ways you can help make Austin a better place to live.

 

 

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