Austin City Council members are fine-tuning their goals for a new land-development code at a meeting Tuesday, and they’re trying to do it in a respectful manner.
Anyone familiar with the debate around CodeNEXT knows discussions about the proposed code can get ugly. If adopted, the new rules will shape development across Austin for decades to come.
Tuesday's meeting began with council members agreeing to be respectful to each other as well as to city staff and consultants working on CodeNEXT. Austin Mayor Steve Adler passed out team uniforms, hard hats and reflective vests emblazoned with the words “TEAM AUSTIN.” The mayor said writing a new land-development code has proved to be "a wicked problem," but he said "it's not about wicked people."
"My sense is that this is really not about racist NIMBYs against greedy developers," he said, "but people who have families and children that are trying to protect their families and their futures."
Council then got to work trying to find common ground on a document outlining broad goals for CodeNEXT. Some of the goals include respecting established neighborhood plans, enabling the construction of more backyard apartments, allowing more homes in more commercial areas, supporting housing development along major corridors and working to combat past patterns of segregation.
Council members also bookmarked several issues they weren’t able to quickly compromise on, including where to put transition zones – places where denser development meets residential neighborhoods made up of single-family homes.
The council had discussed setting aside 30 minutes of the meeting to talk about broader goals, but the discussion lasted more than two hours, to which Council Member Delia Garza said she was having "an incredibly hard time being patient about this process."
"I'm just trying to be patient and respectful, but I guess I'd like to know when we're going to actually start digging into the weeds," Garza said, "because I respect [that] we all are coming from different places, and I really appreciate this document about being nice to each other, but in alot of ways, lines have been drawn."
Meanwhile, Council Member Ann Kitchen said she found the discussion on goal setting to be valuable. The council could vote on approving CodeNEXT as early as this summer, and Kitchen said it helps to explore these ideas before diving into the more technical aspects of CodeNEXT.
"I'm learning alot about what people's perspectives are," Kitchen said. "Although I want to move through this fast. ... I find it very helpful to talk about where people are coming from."