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RECA Response to First CodeNEXT Prescription Paper

May 20, 2016

As part of the process to update the Land Development Code (LDC), the City’s CodeNEXT team is releasing a series of “prescription papers” to provide a general idea about the direction the new code is taking. A total of four prescription papers will cover the following: the natural and built environment, affordability, mobility and fiscal health.

Before looking at our specific response to the first prescription paper, RECA has some broader positions on the entire CodeNEXT process.

First, the CodeNEXT process is taking too long to complete. The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan was adopted almost four years ago, and we are finally working on the code with a first draft that’s not expected until 2017. As the discussions lengthen and the delays mount, several issues have arisen that could have been more easily addressed with the new code in place, including parkland dedication, accessory dwelling units and MF-6 zoning.

The revised code that comes out of this process must be clear and consistent. Contradictory statements, confusing language and a patchwork of ordinances have led to a plethora of issues and ultimately have cost stakeholders and the City time and money.   

Each of the recommended prescriptions from these papers need to be analyzed from a cost impact stand-point. Any one of the recommendations could add significant project costs, but considered cumulatively, they will undoubtedly have a significant cost impact to projects and thereby negative impacts on affordability.

Rather than developing these prescription papers, time would be better spent using the guidance that has already been established within the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. There is a real danger that these prescriptions may lead to confusion where they deviate from the recommendations of Imagine Austin, which was already developed and approved through a very robust citizen engagement process and a unanimous City Council vote in June 2012.

RECA recently submitted a formal response on the first prescription paper about the natural and built environment, and you can read the highlights from our formal response below.

Water & Watersheds

While a significant amendment to the City’s Watershed Ordinance has taken place in the recent past, we do not think it should be entirely off the table for reconsideration. Rather than site-by-site solutions, a regional approach should be taken to storm water management.

The requirement to detain redeveloped sites to pre-developed conditions does nothing to incentivize redevelopment and in many cases, is extremely challenging or impossible, due to the lack of storm water infrastructure downstream. The requirements encourage sprawl, which further expands our unaffordability problem.

Landscape & Trees

While RECA is generally supportive of tree preservation based on site context, the overall cost impacts to expanded landscape requirements need to be looked at. There also needs to be some added clarity to the report’s description of “Significant” trees. The current code only defines “Protected and Heritage Trees”. The types of species included as “Significant” should also be analyzed.

Compatibility & Neighborhood Transitions

A complete re-analysis of our existing compatibility standards should be prioritized and site characteristics, such as typography, should be considered when applying compatibility standards. An overall review of the compatibility standards is also needed. For example, civic uses such as schools, day cares and churches should not warrant the same protections as an established single-family residence.

Design for Mobility

RECA is in favor of parking reductions and shared parking opportunities and we support the Complete Streets Policy. We support connectivity, but sites and their potential connections need to be looked at realistically and not treated with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Parks & Open Space

Any parkland modifications should consider the recently revised Parkland Dedication ordinance, and should be analyzed in conjunction with the current Open Space requirements. Context should be considered as urban infill projects vary significantly from greenfield development.

There were also many important issues missing from this first prescription paper including historic preservation, private open space, wilderness areas, transit plazas and remodels to name a few. These issues need to be addressed specifically before a successful new code can be implemented.

You can review RECA’s full response to the first Prescription Paper here, and we’ll provide additional responses as new prescription papers are released. 

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