Austin Council puts a stake in CodeNext

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Austin City Council

CodeNext’s next version is probably not going to come before sometime early next year, City Manager Spencer Cronk told the Austin City Council Thursday afternoon.

The council unanimously voted to bury a process to create a new land development code that has so far cost more than $8 million and six years of effort and produced 4,500 pages in three drafts of work that the council and citizen groups have found unsatisfactory.

Cronk, who took office in February, told council member Ann Kitchen he was comfortable in a leadership role over the code rewriting process, a job formerly held by director of planning and zoning Greg Guernsey. Mayor Steve Adler requested Cronk step in when Adler declared on the City Hall message board last week that CodeNext was hopelessly divisive and broken.

Cronk resisted inquiries from council members about a timeline for resuming work on the first overhaul of the development code in 35 years. Rather than presenting his views on how to move forward, he told the council he would spend his time listening and talking to the numerous frustrated stakeholders. “I’m not promising that will be in a day or weeks or months ahead,” Cronk said.

Fred Lewis, a CodeNext opponent who led a petition drive to bring the third draft of the code to a vote in November, told The Texas Monitor late last week he fully expected nothing more to be done on land development until after the November elections.

The council on Thursday approved a resolution that directs Cronk to work on a new plan that “achieves the stated goals of the city as outlined in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the Strategic Housing Blueprint, and the Austin Strategic Direction 2023 plan.”

Cronk promised the council he would not scrap the work done on CodeNext, but “build off of what we have. It might not be in the form it is now, but we will take what we have and use it.”

The resolution echoes the disappointment expressed by Adler, Lewis and dozens of others who saw the work devolve into bitter backbiting over the integrity of neighborhoods and the need to integrate often-conflicting ideas of density and affordable housing into an overall land development plan.

The resolution lays out the factors that disrupted and eventually doomed the CodeNext process: “major changes to our city leadership and transition to a new 10-1 district system of representation, adoption of the Strategic Housing Blueprint and Strategic Direction 2023 plan, as well as multiple drafts with major revisions between each draft.”

Council member Alison Alter said the council needed to be responsible for rebuilding public trust by taking a more active role in setting clearly defined goals for producing a new code.

“The challenges of creating a new 30-year development code still exist,” she said.

The resolution does not specifically dissolve the CodeNext  team. Spokeswoman Alina Carnahan told The Texas Monitor last week city staff will await direction from Cronk while shifting attention to other city development matters.

The resolution also effectively dissolves the Land Development Code Advisory Group, several members of which told The Texas Monitor they had become disillusioned with the process and the product.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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