Thoughts on CodeNEXT timeline

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Leslie Pool
Posts: 194
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:22 pm

Thoughts on CodeNEXT timeline

Post by Leslie Pool »

Colleagues, this week’s agenda has an item (Item 6) approving an additional $2 million for Opticos to continue its work. This provides us an opportunity to have a conversation on some very pressing issues facing all of us on CodeNEXT -- namely, whether the hard April 2018 deadline we have set for ourselves is realistic or if it has become counterproductive.

I would ask that we re-evaluate this timeline with an eye towards providing greater flexibility for our staff to produce needed materials and for the community and our boards and commissions to understand these proposals fully.

Like many others, I started off this year very hopeful that the re-write of our Land Development Code would be an inclusive effort to ensure community input, buy-in, and broad consensus -- much like we did with Imagine Austin. I thought it was possible for us to run a strong, responsive process that could make the aggressive April 2018 deadline doable.

I understand the need to set goalposts for important projects of this size to help our staff plan and to keep us focused. But today, the deadline is threatening to derail CodeNEXT rather than move us forward. The intense focus on this timeline is creating a situation in which our community and our staff are struggling just to keep up; this has damaged the city’s ability to engage with residents, prioritize community input, and communicate effectively.

This has played out in a number of different ways. Here are some examples:
• We still lack a number of basic informational materials, such as documents comparing existing code with Drafts 1 and 2.
• Only about half of questions on the Council Q&A portal have been answered -- with the average wait time on the remaining unanswered questions
currently at 3.5 months.
• Staff has not had the capacity to demonstrate how the community’s input has been incorporated into Draft 2, nearly a month after it was released.
• The draft code is still missing major components, such as the details on the green infrastructure proposals, site plan requirements on missing middle
housing, signage regulations, and the small-area planning process, among others.
• Boards and commissions are expected to make recommendations on draft elements that are missing or incomplete. When members of the Environmental
Commission noted this at a recent meeting, staff acknowledged that they are operating under a Council-imposed deadline of April 2018.
• Council work sessions -- which were intended to serve as deep discussions about important topics -- have instead become fast-paced presentations of
new material with very little time for questions or discussion.

These issues -- and the perceptions they create -- have fostered a growing lack of trust in CodeNEXT that is undermining the entire process. It seems to me that in our rush to keep this process moving, we may have lost sight of why we are doing this. Our ultimate goal is not to meet a deadline; it is to improve our code and manage our growth.

With all of this in mind, I would ask that we consider adjusting our current timeline and adopt a new goalpost, such as Winter 2018, Spring 2019, or another timeframe that Council finds acceptable. The goal would be to provide greater flexibility while also maintaining a focus on moving forward with our shared goals.

Doing so would provide the time needed for the following:
• A “breathing period” for staff and the community, which could be used to focus on rebuilding trust throughout the city;
• Completing all unfinished proposals for the draft code;
• Initiating a communications strategy that is responsive to the community;
• Producing the materials that we all need to evaluate the CodeNEXT proposals; and
• Receiving valuable feedback from our boards and commissions, and the public.

I truly believe that we need to improve our Land Development Code and develop tools that can help us more effectively manage our growth and implement the community goals embodied in Imagine Austin -- and I believe this is a sentiment many Austinites share. However, I’m concerned that if we do not address the problems I’ve discussed here, the current distrust of CodeNEXT will grow to such an extent that no proposal will be acceptable.

So, I have pulled Item 6 to discuss these thoughts and see where we can find agreement.


Leslie Pool
Council Member, District 7