CodeNext or CodeNEVER

Let the people vote

Why Austin deserves a vote on CodeNEXT — a massive overhaul of our land development and zoning rules:

  • CodeNEXT is a 1300+ page document that involves billions of dollars in development decisions for Austin, affecting every resident, neighborhood and business.
  • CodeNEXT could displace tens of thousands more Austin residents already burdened with unaffordable rents and property taxes.
  • The reality is that the more you “pack and stack” people, the more valuable the land becomes underneath them. Density is not a cure for Austin’s unaffordability crisis — don’t allow people to sell you this fantasy.
  • CodeNEXT is a transparency nightmare, already costing taxpayers at least $6 million, not including tens of thousands of city staff hours. It started in 2013 but maps were released just this year by a San Francisco based firm — one of top cities in the nation undergoing a severe affordability crisis.

Besides, isn’t it obvious that giving Austinites the right to vote on CodeNEXT would better ensure it’s a sound decision for Austin?

Right now, Mayor Steve Adler opposes giving you the right to vote on something more important than pretty much anything we can think of in terms of the city’s future — your future.

Please print out this petition, sign it and ask your family and friends to do the same. Mail it back to us right away. (And do consider our other two petitions — for a new sign ordinance and the right to referendum.)

Then, call Mayor Adler to respectfully request that he support your right to vote on CodeNEXT. Call 512.978.2100. Or send him an email through his assistant here.

Note: Only registered voters in Austin can sign this petition.

You must sign a hard copy.

Online petitions for public votes are not allowed in Texas.

More About CodeNEXT

Please note that this piece below was written on September 8, 2017. A second version of CodeNEXT was released on September 15, 2017. It will take some time to review its likely 1300+ pages, especially if the City of Austin does not provide a “redline” version – to see, page by page, what’s been changed.

Meanwhile, this is what we believe we know for now about CodeNEXT:

In February of 2017 a new written, but incomplete land use code for Austin, CodeNEXT was released. It wasn’t until mid-April 2017, new zoning for every property in Austin was revealed. The first draft of CodeNEXT was a split code, with some neighborhoods being put into transect zoning, which is “form based” while other neighborhoods were given traditional residential zoning designations. Some neighborhoods, like Hyde Park will keep current legacy code, because of their status as a Historic District (HD) in a Neighborhood Conservation Combining Distrct (NCCD). “Form based” zoning means the form and not the use is what is important, so what a building looks like is more important than what it is used for. Neighborhoods designated as transects were no longer labelled ‘residential’ as many more types of uses are now allowed.

Transect Zones are designed to increase the residential density and uses in neighborhoods, reduce parking and minimize or eliminate compatibility standards.

Transects zones are defined, in part by the width of the lot, and the new code has the greatest development potential on the smallest lots. So lots that are at least 60 or 70 feet wide are allowed less development than lots that are 50 feet wide.

Duplexes and multiple residential structures will now be allowed on all lots in single family neighborhoods. The current lot size minimum is 5,750 sq.ft. for single family homes and 7,000 sq. ft. for duplexes. The new transect code prescribes lots as small as 1875 sq. ft.

A typical lot of 50’ x 125’ lot would allow as many as 3 dwelling units per lot in T3 categories, and 9 dwelling units per lot in T4 categories. Resubdivision is no longer required to develop single lots to the lower lot standards, merely a site plan. 5-8 dwelling units could be built in T3 Transect designations, and up to 11 dwelling units in T4 designations on this modest lot.

Transects permit commercial short term rentals, day care centers, small group homes, and home occupations, in converted homes or new structures in all neighborhoods and on all lots with a Transect classification. With an administratively approved Minor Use Permit (MUP) or a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), large day care services, art galleries. meeting facilities, community recreation, are
also allowed with signage. Interestingly, religious assembly is no longer a use listed in any transect category.

Transects provide Sub-zones (called “Open zones”) which allow commercial uses such as office, retail, personal services, food sales and restaurant uses in converted homes or new structures. The distinctions in the current code between office and retail uses are largely eliminated.

The distinction between medical offices and other professional offices reflected in the existing Neighborhood Office district, which excluded medical office use, no longer exists. Additional uses most notably bars and lounges and larger restaurants are permitted as a conditional use in several Transect neighborhoods with the approval of the Land Use Commission. In Transect T4 Main Street, hotels, banks and larger retail and medical services are permitted even without an Open subzone.

It is not clear if the conversion to a designated “Open zones” is even a zoning change. This is not addressed in the document.

Bars and nightclubs are especially disruptive. In the current code, to open a bar outside the CBD requires a zoning change. Transect zoning has dramatically increased the ability to open a bar outside the CBD. Compatibility standards in the current ordinance which set back bar parking 200’ from homes are also eliminated.

In some Transect zones, Bars require only a Minor Use Permit which does not require a hearing or Council approval though some as yet undetermined administrative appeal will be allowed. In other Transect zones, they are a permitted use or conditional use.

Transects allow taller buildings (and a broader range and size of commercial uses) on “main streets” through and adjoining neighborhoods and in the T5 Transect zones. Transects up to and including T4N.SS are limited to 2 stories and properties in these transects are now required to have 20 ft. setbacks compared to the existing 10 foot setback for SF-2 and SF-3 properties. But from there the permissible height increases and in the T5 zoning category the setbacks don’t keep up. For example, in T5N.SS a 4 story building only requires a 20 ft. rear setback. In T5U.SS, T5U and T5MS up to 6 stories are allowed (which may be located on arterial like Burnet Road).

The current compatibility standards require a 200 to 400 foot setback from 4 to 6 story buildings. only a 50 ft. setback is required from an abutting 4-6 story building inn CodeNEXT transects. If your home is in a T4 transect category, NO setback is required from higher zonings. An 85 foot tall building can be built to the lot line behind a home. Also, If the building is across the street or alley from a home, then even this minimal setback is not required.

Furthermore, although the text is too ambiguous to know for sure, it appears that structured parking a/k/a parking garages, at least when not incorporated into the “primary building,” are subject to only a 5 foot setback in the rear in the T5 Transects. If true, this is a setback loophole large enough to park a truck in.

Side setbacks are non-existent or woefully deficient when a tall building is next to a low intensity residential use. These rules also do not address residences across the street and do not adequately protect homes across an alley from tall buildings. The code provisions need to be consulted on a property by property basis, but clearly in many cases the compatibility setback standards are half-baked not “baked in” as contended.

The compatibility standards involve more than just setbacks. They also involve scale and clustering, screening, lighting and noise requirements. Screening of parking, mechanical equipment, storage and refuse collection (refuse must also be at least 20 feet from housing) and screening between districts where a commercial district abuts a residential district are required in the current ordinance. In Code NEXT The only things screened in transects are: large waste receptacles, loading docks, overhead doors and service entries.

No Buffer Zones are required in transects, only in non-transect zones. For example a house across the street from the rear of a commercial business, or abutting a commercial business, no longer requires screening. For areas in a CodeNEXT residential zone, a 25 foot setback is required, with screening.

The McMansion Ordinance that prescribes that infill housing must maintain compatibility with surrounding homes, through setbacks, planes and FAR limits. McMansion standards are loosely integrated into residential zones, and absent from transects. There is no longer any floor to area ratio (FAR) limits for building in transect areas.

While CodeNEXT non-transect residential zones have higher compatibility standards with non-residential use, there are still gaping holes in the code. In LMDR (Low Medium Density Residential), with approval of a CUP any home can be used as a LIVE/WORK use, with 50% of the home being used as a workspace.

A LIVE/WORK use is allowed in a home with LMDR zoning and a CUP. The workspace can accommodate commercial and light industrial uses. Three employees not living on site are allowed to work in the house. Retail sales of goods produced in the workspace and signs are allowed.

Another aspect of compatibility in the present code is the application of the traffic generation limits as determined through a Neighborhood Traffic Impact Analysis. This provision has not yet been released for Code Next but is projected to be included. This will need to be watched to see if (how) it is weakened.

Transects reduce or eliminate altogether parking requirements for several non-residential (commercial) uses in these zones, effectively transferring parking to the neighborhood streets.

A 2,500 sq. ft. medical office is required to provide zero parking for staff and patients. A 3,000 sq. ft. retail store, general office or bank is required provide only a single parking space.

And, the Director of Planning, whose decision is unreviewable, may further reduce or eliminate the on-site parking requirement for a variety of reasons such as proximity to a corridor, or bike racks or off-site parking 1,000 feet away. Further, the proposed off-site parking provision eliminates the factors to be considered as part of the application process such as the impact of the parking facility on traffic patterns and nearby residents Approved Neighborhood Plans were proposed to constitute an overlay zone the purpose of which is to require property to be “developed in a manner consistent with the goals, policies and objectives” of the Neighborhood Plans. Attention must be paid to the extent to which the plans address use, parking, lot size and density. It should be remembered is that Neighborhood Plans are subject to amendment by the Council and those amendment provisions are carried forward into the proposed code. However, this section of the code is planned for removal.

Community Not Commodity, a non-profit organization that is opposing CodeNEXT, has provided a well documented counter to CodeNEXT and is worthy of you deep divers who want more information. Go here: CodeNEXT Information, by Community Not Commodity

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