Residents from across Austin raised concerns at a CodeNEXT meeting earlier this month that the city’s proposed new land development code would scrap their neighborhood plans.
The city's project manager said that's just not true.
“There has been no change to how we are addressing neighborhood plans through CodeNEXT," Jorge Rousselin said.
The neighborhood-planning process allows residents of a given area to weigh in on its future development. Rousselin said the plans can be changed only through action by City Council; CodeNEXT can’t just do away with them. In fact, he said, those neighborhood plans have helped to inform the maps, which show how the new zoning regulations would apply across the city.
Rousselin said he thinks the confusion may stem from changes in the regulatory language under CodeNEXT.
“The neighborhood plan initials are not included in the nomenclature of the zoning district, if that’s what they are referring to, but those neighborhood plans continue to exist,” he said.
To those who have helped craft Austin’s neighborhood plans, the documents serve as a guide that is often the culmination of years of work.
Lin Team is a realtor and president of the Eastwoods Neighborhood Association. In the early 2000s, Team helped write a plan that covers Eastwoods and a cluster of other neighborhoods near the University of Texas campus.
Team, who has long been active in historic preservation efforts, said she struck compromises with people who didn’t share her views; they grew to trust each other. Team said she wishes she saw more of that kind of camaraderie in the CodeNEXT process.
“We have this package that we love,” Team said, referring to Eastwoods neighborhood plan. “We all agree it’s a benefit, and that it will keep peace in the world as we know it because we have developed it together.”
Still, a 2016 city audit found that the city’s neighborhood-planning process is inequitable and that it lacks representation from renters. Team said it’s not surprising that homeowners would be more involved in such a tedious and time-consuming writing process. After all, a home is often a person’s largest investment.
Though not everyone gets involved, she said, she sees the neighborhood-planning process as a representative form of participation.
“There are very few of us who live in a silo,” she said. “We are all affected by conversations with our neighbors and friends, what we read and what we see.”
In her own neighborhood, Team said, residents have found ways to strike a balance, adding additional housing units while preserving historic homes like her own.
Others say a lack of diverse voices in the neighborhood-planning process has real effects on the types of housing that gets built, and ultimately, who can afford to live in Austin.
“If we have a patchwork method of planning our city by which some people are allowed in some parts … and [other] people are allowed in other parts, there’s the possibility that people may be excluded because of that,” said Francisco Enriquez with the nonprofit think tank Evolve Austin.
Enriquez said he’s not advocating for doing away with the plans. He just wants more people to be involved in the process.
The Austin City Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in about six months.