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Not CodeNext—Just a Better Land Use Code

Posted by John Rosshirt on Monday, July 9th, 2018 at 4:23pm.

I have been following the Land Use Code update process from before it was branded CodeNext. A Land Use Code is the set of regulations a city uses about how property is used and developed. It balances landowner rights while also looking out for overall community interests. A city’s land use code is not to be confused with deed restrictions or HOA rules. A property owner’s plan must meet all these rules.

Codes do get updated (the last in Austin was in 1984) but our land use code is older than that and the principals involved were from a very car-centric frame of mind. As such, the land use code has been a contributing factor to our city's biggest complaints. We also have the problems of so many little fixes, amendments, and neighborhood plans adopted since the last rewrite. Property owners need to individually request variances to do what they wish beyond an outdated code’s restrictions so often that we consider this tedious and expensive process normal. One of the goals of the rewrite is to bring all these ideas and rules together into the code.

Austin is a fascinating petri dish to anyone interested in what is wanted and needed in code that meets the current exodus of people moving out of rural areas into cities. Austin grows so fast that we see results of decisions in shorter order compared to other cities. The pressure of our rapid growth is huge. Transportation is said to be our biggest problem but affordability is quickly surpassing it in our awareness. Both of these problems are in part formed by our existing land use code. And some of the pressure of our current predictable development can be alleviated by a better code. But no code will be a panacea for our problems.

The other thing that the code does not change is attitudes. However, many people want to have something different than what has become commonplace. Two of the fastest growing demographics, the millennials and the seniors, have a desire and in some cases a need for walkability. They are often willing to live in smaller situations but they still want access to vibrant areas, i.e., walkable to a wide range of services.

There are so many interesting positions about this that it is hard to make sense of all the comments. The problems of the current code are being projected on the brand CodeNext. The other category of complaints is that each interest group does not think the plan does enough for their position which is a sign that it may be the best possible compromise.

It is in the hands of the city council now. As the mayor said to me and a small group of REALTOR leaders, the focus will be on consensus. On another occasion, he said he will only vote for it if it is an improvement over the current code.

The code will be improved, changed if you will, so your needs as a buyer and seller will be better served by an agent with the knowledge of the possible impacts these changes will have on future growth and development.

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