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CodeNEXT, As Explained To A 6-Year-Old

Martin do Nascimento
Violet Maas, 6, and Elizabeth Mueller, associate professor of community and regional planning, at Mueller's office on Friday.

Two women – one grown, the other growing – sit in a University of Texas office. The younger one, just 6 years old, wears a gray T-shirt, pink leggings and cowboy boots, which dangle from the edge of her chair. The other woman wears a blue linen top and bangles on her arm. Between them sits a more than 1,000-page document.

“What do you think of when you hear the word code?” Elizabeth Mueller, associate professor of community and regional planning, asks Violet, the daughter of KUT’s Jimmy Maas.

“It’s like a password,” the first-grader says.

Well, sort of.

"It's kind of like the rules or the secrets for how to do something," Mueller explains. "So, a city code is the rules for what we're allowed to build in different places in the city."

The city’s rewrite of its land development code is intended to simplify the code and focus on the character of the neighborhood rather than a building's use – its "form" rather than its "function." Under the current code, each  plot of land has a designated use – residential, commercial, industrial. Form-based code focuses on how it looks, allowing for a variety of uses.

In the words of a 6-year-old, land development code has the power to dictate a lot: "Do you want three floors in your house? Do you want space in your driveway for more cars? Stuff like that."

In January, the city released the draft text of the new code. Since then, various interest groups across the city have been meeting to better understand the code and how to advocate for the changes they want. This morning, the city is set to release maps that will show where each form of the new code will apply.

Here’s how Mueller breaks that down for Violet.

“So right now we have this big book and it has all the rules in it,” she says. “It talks about the rules in general. But then when we get these maps, they’re going to give us more specific information. So they’ll say, 'The rules for you because you live in this certain place are this.' But if you live somewhere else, you get different rules.”

The city’s more central areas will likely be governed by transect zones, which are intended to promote density. The various zones dictate building restrictions across lower-density areas, like central neighborhoods, up to the city’s urban core. The less dense parts of the city will most likely remain under the current use-based code. 

There are 13 transect zones in the draft of the new code. The city added additional zones after receiving public comments. Alina Carnahan, CodeNEXT public information specialist, said the city will lay out those additional zones with the draft map that comes out today.
“We actually looked at some places and you’re right, they [don’t] all necessarily…capture the existing zones we have, capture the character of those places, so we made even more,” she says.

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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