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

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

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 touch 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

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lady Bird Lake Water Rentals

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lady Bird Lake Water Rentals

Lady Bird Lake, formerly known as Town Lake, is one of the Austin’s crown jewels. Year round, save for the scorching 100-plus heat days, the lake is a great place for locals, transplants and visitors to recreate.  One of the best ways to experience the water is by boat – canoe, kayak, pedal boat or  standup paddle board (abbreviated as “SUP”).

Since Aquafest, powered motor boats are forbidden on Lady Bird Lake, with exceptions for small electric motors.

SUP on Lady Bird Lake

SUP on Lady Bird Lake

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the top spots to rent canoes, kayaks, SUP boards and water bikes (if you’re one of these boathouses and have a special offer, let us know).

Before we get into it, a quick word about what to bring with you if it is your first time out

  • Sunscreen. (Cancer is no joke. Aaaand peeling skin isn’t sexy – take it from a pale red-head who has learned the hard way.)
  • Hat. (If you look like a freak, fly your freak flag proudly. State Troopers wear cowboy hats for a reason.)
  • Sunglasses. (Buy some cheapies that you won’t mind losing if you tip.)
  • Water-bottle. (For the beverage of your choosing if it is opaque and insulated)
  • Ziplock baggie for your phone. (You’ll enjoy yourself more if you’re not freaking about it.)
  • A valid Government Issued Photo ID or Driver license. (Required for rental.)
  • A credit card in the same name as the ID. (Required for rental.)

A word of warning: canoes are way easier to master than kayaks, which go off course really easy in a two-person setup.  If you’re prone to frustration or fights with whomever you’re going out there with, I’d stay away from kayaks.  Seriously, even Maverick and Goose would get frustrated with each other trying to paddle those things straight.

Sup Atx Paddle Board Rentals  (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: Open all daylight hours, seven days a week.
  • Fleet: SUP boards
  • Weekday SUP rate benchmark: $15 per hour.
  • Where: The published address 1541 W Cesar Chavez St, but the actual location is 2100 Stephen F. Austin Dr. (Best bet by car is to get there early and park under the Mopac bridge, or elsewhere along Stephen F Austin Drive and walk there along the lake trail.)
  • Phone: 512-467-7799

EpicSUP Standup Paddle Board & Kayak Rentals (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: 9 a.m to 7 p.m., seven days a week
  • Fleet: Single/Double kayaks, SUP boards
  • Weekday SUP rate benchmark: $15 per hour.
  • Where: 2200 S Lakeshore Blvd. (There location is behind the HI-USA Hostel. Best bet by car is to take advantage of public parking at 505 Barton Springs Road, and walk over.)
  • Phone: 512-423-4885

Congress Avenue Kayaks  (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 :30 p.m. (last rental goes out at 6:30 p.m.)
  • Fleet: Single/Double kayaks, SUP boards
  • Weekday SUP rate benchmark: $20 per hour.
  • Where: 74 Trinity St, Austin, TX 78701 (Best bet buy car is metered parking at the MACC and walk there the trail.)
  • Phone:  512-809-8916

Live Love Paddle (formerly Paddle Zen)  (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: Thursday to Monday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Tuesday: Noon to 5:30 p.m.; closed Wednesday.
  • Fleet: Single/Double kayaks, SUP boards, Canoes, NuCanoes
  • Weekday SUP rate benchmark: $15 per hour.
  • Where: 1610 E Riverside Dr, Austin, TX 78741 (Office is located next to Radio Shack in ground floor of the AMLI Southshore building on Lady Bird Lake. Best bet by car is to use the surface/garage parking there.)
  • Phone: 512-804-2122

Austin Water Bikes  (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: Monday to Thursday, Noon to 6 p.m.; Friday – Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Fleet: water bikes
  • Price: $22/hour (check website for tours and other costs)
  • Where: 208 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704 (Located behind the Hyatt. Best bet by car is to take advantage of public parking at 505 Barton Springs Road, and walk over.)
  • Phone: 512-200-6555 

Texas Rowing Center (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: 6 a.m. to “dusk”; seven days a week
  • Fleet: Fleet: Single/Double/Triple kayaks, SUP boards, Canoes
  • Price: Weekday SUP rate benchmark: $15 per hour.
  • Where: 1541 W Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78703 (Best bet buy car is metered parking at the MACC and walk there the trail.)
  • Phone: 512-467-7799

Rowing Dock (Click for pricing)

  • Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.; seven days a week
  • Fleet: Fleet: Single/Double/kayaks, SUP boards, Canoes
  • Price: Weekday SUP rate benchmark: $15 per hour.
  • Where: 2418 Stratford Dr, Austin, TX 78746 (Apparently, National Treasure 3 stars Nicolas Cage trying to find the place, so here are the company’s tips.)
  • Phone: 512-459-0999

~Amber

kayak

austin lifestyle downtown - lady bird lake

The Other Downtown Austin

The Other Downtown Austin

It’s an exciting time to live in and be involved with Downtown Austin.  Major developments being announced, and construction commencing pretty regularly.  Population and commerce increasing exponentially each year.  More places to eat.  More feet on the street. More energy.  Austin, and downtown Austin specifically, garners a lot of local, regional, and even national attention… well, most of downtown gets attention.

See, there’s this “other” downtown.  A hidden-in-plain-sight curiosity.

Let me preface the point.  Take look at a map of downtown Austin.  Visualize downtown as four quadrants, with axes along 6th Street and Congress Avenue.

First, the southeastern quadrant of downtown is home to the monumental Waller Creek redevelopment, has fortunate proximity to most downtown and East Side venues, quick access to the Hike & Bike Trail, several exciting and new hotel developments, including the The Fairmont and the Hotel Van Zandt, and an array of existing and proposed apartment and condo developments.  70 Rainey, for example.

Second, the southwestern quadrant, the media darling of downtown Austin, with heavy economic investment, has a rich mix of residential, office, and recreational uses, and seems to be constantly boasting some sort of development activity.  Major, sexy condo tower projects like the Seaholm, the Greenwater Treatment redevelopment, and the newly announced Independent have put the area on the forefront of media coverage.  Substantial office projects like the recently completed Colorado Tower and the under-construction office tower at 5th and Colorado are also making news.

Third, the northeastern quadrant is bubbling as an “Innovation Zone” – with developments bringing new life to the medical and tech industries, as well as activity related to our state Capitol.  Very recently, Foundation Communities opened it’s affordable housing development: Capital Studios.  This area is also filled, FILLED!!, with blighted parking garages.  Fortunately, Texas State Capitol complex has started getting some attention in recent years.

And, now we’ve arrived at the subject of this post.

Fourth, and finally, the “other” downtown.  The oft overlooked top left corner of downtown.  The tranquil, lush, historically quaint, attorney office dense, northwestern quadrant of downtown!  (Bookmark this: OANA’s terrific historic online tour, block by block)

We simply don’t hear much from this neck of the woods, even though it’s among the most peaceful and pleasant places to live in downtown, with plentiful tree canopy, open parks, myriad law offices, Shoal Creek, ACC, and tasteful restorations.

It’s also some of the most expensive residential property in the City.  Most of the residential in this area is comprised of single family homes, like this, and this, and this one.  Many of these homes have become office uses, generally of the law firm or other office-practice variety (although some other fun stuff is starting to pop up!).

Austin Panic Room

The Austin Panic Room, a fun new concept that just opened in NW downtown Austin.

The reason we don’t hear of these big, shiny, fabulous, skyline changing developments?  Zoning.  It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.

For better or worse, many of the lots in the northwest part of downtown Austin simply aren’t zoned for high-rises.  It’s no simple task to get an area that’s this passionate with historic sentiment and neighborhood protections to simply approve mass zoning changes willy-nilly.  Some of the City’s most prime and walkable downtown real estate is almost completely untapped as far as density goes, with most lots being inhabited with one-story or two-story Victorian style homes.  To be clear, we like it this way, too!

There are a few dense developments in northwest downtown, like the newly constructed apartment tower, Seven.  And, Aspen Heights is under construction.  So are the Celia’s Court at 908 Nueces. Also notable, are Westgate and Cambridge Towers, which are along major boulevards.  Typically, in this part of downtown, we expect to see mid-rise developments like 904 West, Park West Condos, and the Nokonah, along with a handful of off-the-radar apartment communities, like the Nueces Flats.

You can be on W 6th Street at midnight, then walk stumble 2-3 blocks north along Nueces and it feels like a different, quieter, world.

No doubt we will continue to read headlines about downtown Austin.  Along the way, it will be interesting to observe how the “other” downtown Austin remains relatively media mute.  Maybe it’s better that way.

-Jude

Two Rainey District Towers Getting New Restaurant Concepts

Two Rainey District Towers Getting New Restaurant Concepts

There’s always tons of activity in the downtown Austin restaurant scene, but we’re particularly excited about new restaurants in the Rainey Street District since this area of downtown is changing and maturing more quickly than other parts of downtown.

With the residential that already exists in the district, and more coming online like Millennium Rainey Apartments, 70 Rainey, and the proposed Waller Park Place, expanded commercial options for this downtown Austin area were imminent, and we’re now seeing day spas, salons, a dry cleaner (!), and more eating options pop up in Rainey.

Skyhouse Apartments is filling a corner on the ground floor with a fun looking concept called Emmer and Rye. We’ve reached out, but don’t know a ton about it (there appears to have been a restaurant in Seattle with the same name that closed a couple years back, but we’re unsure if it’s related).  The only online marketing they seem to currently have is their Instagram account.  We did find some great renderings online from their architect, Kevin Stewart, though:

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Additionally, the Hotel Van Zandt, a boutique hotel concept opening right next to The Shore Condos this summer, is opening a very smartly named Geraldine’s restaurant concept, which will boast undoubtedly stunning lake views as well as good food and fun.

Check out their website (it’s just a landing page, right now) here, and sign up for updates.

Also, check out updated Hotel Van Zandt interior renderings at the Austin Business Journal.

geraldines-austin

 

These concepts will join existing Rainey dining options No Va, El Naranjo, G’raj Mahal, Bangers, Javelina, Salvation Pizza, and Royal Blue Grocery.

Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Are you itching for something a little different – a little outside of the normal weekend routine of brunch, shopping, frisbee golf in Zilker, etc?

Well, have I got a recommendation for you – Austin Panic Room.

It’s one of the funnest group activities that I’ve done in a very long time, and they have recently relocated from East Austin into downtown Austin at 1205 Rio Grande, near ACC and Pease Elementary.

Here’s the scoop:  Austin Panic Room is basically just a big puzzle you solve with your friends (and maybe some strangers) in about an hour.

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