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City Previews Pitfalls Before Development Plan Rewrite

KUT News

Nationally recognized city planners descended on Austin today with a bit of advice for the city as it begins to retool its land development code: Don’t screw it up. 

Planning experts from Raleigh, N.C; Madison, WI; Denver, CO; and Dallas briefed members of the Land Development Code Advisory Board in preparation for their first meeting on Tuesday, when they'll begin  to rewrite the code for the first time since 1984. They emphasized that the city needs to get the code right, or prepare for perpetual litigation and complications that come with a sloppy development code.

Former Dallas City Councilwoman Veletta Forsythe Lill helped rewrite the Dallas development code in 2006. She said that despite their friendly rivalry, the cities both share a symbiotic growth.

“Your downtown development patterns are changing considerably since I’ve been coming down here. You have more high-rise buildings and those kinds of things,” Forsythe Lill said. “You’re looking at your mass transit like we have. And we’re looking at a lot of walkability and bicycling and all of those things.”

Forsythe Lill said that the growth indicates a larger shift in Texas as a whole as the state becomes more and more urbanized.

“We’re becoming an urban state,” Forsythe Lill said. “And if you look at the numbers, 3 of the top 10 cities in America are here. Texas is a force and it’s becoming an urban force, for which I’m excited.”

Austinites may decry the “Dallas-ing” of Austin, but the city’s expansion has exploded in recent years. And Austin code advisory board member Mandy De Mayo says Austin needs to address the need for more affordable urban housing as the city expands.

“Dallas seemed to want to focus more on middle income families, and retaining families which is certainly one of our challenges,” De Mayo said. “I do want to see how the Land Development Code can help increase diversity of housing stock and maintain the diversity level of our city.”

DeMayo said recent pushes for affordable housing are a good sign, and that the Land Development Code advisory board will to continue those efforts.

Some of the panelists took time to offer advice on other Austin-based issues, like environmental standards.

Mike Slavney is lead planner at a consulting firm in Madison, WI. Slavney said that environmental issues are some of the most personal for citizens during a rewrite of development code. He noted that when he helped Madison rewrite their code he included several provisions to avoid pollution – establishing a ban on fertilizers within the city limits and requiring dairies to reroute sewer lines in order to harvest energy from the methane produced by cattle.

Mitch Silver represented Raleigh, N.C. on the panel and advised Austin to test the new development code in the interim period after city council approves it, but before it goes into effect. This “beta” testing would highlight any kinks in the code, and allow the city to proactively address issues as they arise.

De Mayo said that she and the Land Code Advisory Board will meet on Tuesday for their first orientation meeting and that she, like others on the board, are looking forward to tackling the rewrite.

“I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into,” De Mayo joked. “But I’m excited about the opportunities and challenges, let’s put it that way.” 

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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