WTF is Austin’s CodeNext and Why the ‘Eff Should I Care?

WTF is Austin’s CodeNext and Why the ‘Eff Should I Care?

[UPDATE January 30, 2017: Link to first official draft of CodeNEXT]

You’ve likely stumbled across the phrase “CodeNext” somewhere on the interwebs, figured it was another facacta Austin planning scheme, and so you just jumped back to reading Deadspin.

CodeNext (single word) is the multi-year effort to redevelop Austin’s Land Development Code, also called the LDC.  In theory, the LDC codifies what can be built, where it can be built, and how it must be built.

Austin City Limits

The CodeNext project is massive, and not without controversy.  It’s fair to point out the project has drawn fire from the community for getting off track and over budget (a latter point the city flatly refutes).

The planning stages are almost complete, and a draft will be released to the public in January.  God only knows what will come after the release, given the myriad of special interests that have a stake in shaping what parts of the draft would stay or go.  But, we’ll deal with that in 2017.

Monthly CodeNext meetings are held each month through October, with the next being August 22nd.  They are quite lengthy and to that end can be viewed online.  You can also request a presentation from the city here.

Existing Context

Aint nobody got time, Jude, why the ‘eff should I care about CodeNext?

The city has devoted an entire web page to that question, but in very simplistic real estate terms, this effort had the potential to improve the ease, speed, cost and consistency of new development and redevelopment in Austin.

As a result, CodeNext will directly affect your life in three key areas:

  • housing affordability
  • transportation
  • the “look & feel” of the city

In the most literal sense, you will see and feel the results of CodeNext as you go about your future life in Austin.

More subjectively, you should care because one day you may own property.  On that day you will realize you’ve morphed into a gray-haired republican, realize that property taxes are a bitch, you’ll hate that the big government tells you what you can/can’t do with your own damn property, and that Reagan had some not-so-bad ideas about small government.  OR, you’re one of those perpetual renters (media calls you “Millennials”) who can only afford to live 13 gridlocked miles from downtown Austin, and you’re rightfully indignant observing all the undeveloped land in Central Austin where density is blocked by zoning in Dixiecrat fashion.

Zoning word jumble

So, what does the LDC look like?

Well, the city has laid different zoning types here in a fairly simple manner.  They’ve also summarized various zoning classifications in a “simple” to read 100 page pdf here.  If you’re a glutton for punishment you can wade through the current LDC here.

I wanted to try to explain it in the context of why this effort is underway.

  1. The laws passed by City Council are inked in the “Code of Ordinances” also known as “city code.” These are the laws of the land in the city limits. For example, the law that you can’t text and drive is written into the “city code”. (§ 12-1-34 to be exact. The symbol “§” is a character often used to refer to a particular section of the law.)
  2. The city code is organized by 30 “Titles” of which Title 25 is Land Development Code, or LDC, which regulates development within the city’s planning and zoning jurisdiction.

Follow me so far?  Good because here is where it gets messy.

  1. The basic structure of the existing LDC has four major structural levels below Title, which are: Chapter (such as § 25-1);  Article (such as § 25-1-1); and finally Section (such as § 25-1-1(a)).
  2. This organizational structure has been amended over the past 30 years with additional layers added, such as: “Division”, “Sub-chapter”, and “Subpart”. While these new layers have been added, the methodology for numbering the layers for ease of referencing has not been updated, making the numbering system ineffective at allowing a user to understand where in the hierarchy of the LDC the reference exists. Hence the shifting labyrinth depending on who you’re talking to.

Moreover, Austin has 39 base districts described in the Land Development Code that “zone” parts of town for development. For example, they might be zoned “SF-1” for “single family – large lot” or SF-6 for “townhouse or condominium”. However, when you add all the layers that can be overlaid on top of the base zones, you end up with almost 400 possible different combinations!

Revamping the LDC is essential because navigating Austin’s code is like walking through a labyrinth, and depending on who you speak with in which city department and how they interpret one piece of code versus another conflicting piece, the labyrinth is always shifting.  Not good.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.41.41 PM

Summary

Austin seems to do more planning than actually doing.  At times, keeping up with all the planning efforts can be demoralizing, when most of us simply want pragmatic and moral leadership at City Hall.  Truthfully, the point of this post was so that I could answer: “why I should care about CodeNext?”  If you live in Austin, then CodeNext will touch something in your life… where you live, where you work, what that building looks like, and how you get there.

Whatever is adopted will certainly be better than the labyrinth of laws and plans that citizens of Austin currently must navigate in order to comply.  Hopefully, the next time you see “CodeNext” it won’t be a nebulous city process, and instead, you’ll understand why people are passionate about it when the draft is released this coming January.

~Jude

About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude serves on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.

Comments

  1. Entertaining and informative. Bravo, my man.

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