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Local Interest Groups Gear Up for a Year of CodeNEXT Talk

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Steven Yarak of the group AURA (Austinites for Urban Rail Action) takes notes on a white board as Mateo Barnstone and others discuss CodeNEXT at the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library.

At the rear of the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library on E. Cesar Chavez Street, roughly 10 people gather in a meeting room. It looks like any classroom. There’s a white board at the back, unflattering lighting above, and rows of chairs stacked to the side.

What’s unusual is the discussion. At times, it’s hard to discern.

“Is all of T4 limited to two stories?” asks Steven Yarak, who stood at the white board taking notes. Josiah Stevenson sits near him, staring intently into the computer on his lap.

“No, so I think T4 main street can be three stories,” Stevenson replies.

T4 refers to Transect Zone 4, one of numerous forms laid out in CodeNEXT, the city of Austin’s new Land Development Code. The people gathered at this library on a Thursday evening are members of AURA, an organization formerly known as Austinites for Urban Rail, which has expanded to include broader urbanism issues since first forming. The group has been holding semiweekly readings of the city’s new thousand-page Land Development Code.

It’s one way members of local interest groups started digging into the first draft of the code since it was released last month. A code rewrite marks an opportunity for advocates from all sides – from neighborhood preservationist to urbanist – to have a say in how the city will grow. And this opportunity comes but every three decades – or, at least that’s the last time any major changes were made to the code.

Wading into the technicalities is essential.

“A city’s Land Development Code is like its DNA,” says Cid Galindo, president of the executive committee for Evolve Austin. The group formed with the goal of advocating for the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a compact and connected city. “The future of what the city will look like is already, in some senses, predetermined in the DNA of an organism.”

But one challenge is that while the new code is out, the city won’t release maps until April. So the public does not know where these transect zones, or forms, will be applied.

“It’s hard for people who are not very familiar with the code to understand how it’s going to impact them,” says Lauren Ice, staff attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance. The group joined with others to release a list of code priorities – including allowing neighborhoods to determine development and protections for green space.

“That is the way most people really relate to what the Land Development Code is by what’s on the ground, in their neighborhood, maybe on their property,” Ice says.

Galindo says the goal for many of these local groups is to fully digest the new code so that they can both educate members and bring recommended changes to City Council.

“That’s what we’re really working on now, as well, is trying to figure out how to best communicate our concerns about CodeNEXT and the things we like about CodeNEXT to the larger group of partners,” he says.

The city will host its second of five open houses on CodeNEXT this Saturday. It will likely take at least a year to finalize a new land code.

This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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