A Personal Letter to the CodeNEXT Advisory Group and Planning Commission

A Personal Letter to the CodeNEXT Advisory Group and Planning Commission
by Brendan Wittstruck

Dear Code Advisory Group Members and Planning Commissioners,

I am writing to express my deep concern with the language in the Draft Resolution for Consideration by the Land Development Code Advisory Group with regard to CodeNEXT, which calls for consultants and City Staff to “ensure that the product of the CodeNEXT process provide a sufficient zoning standards/districts such that the existing neighborhood plans can be (1) replicated, (2) not replicated, and/or (3) modified with the new Land development code when the new code is applied in the code mapping process.” 

The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan proposes we “recognize, respect and reflect these carefully crafted compromises, balances, and the assumptions upon with the existing neighborhood and area plans were based and depend”.  This Resolution duplicitously uses this language to support the demand that neighborhood plans be “replicated” under the Code rewrite.

To conflate “recognize, respect and reflect” with “replicate” is a dangerous misinterpretation.  To recognize, respect and reflect the balances of City and neighborhood plans is to learn from them and work with them; to replicate them, in contrast, is to effectively codify them over a hamstrung Comprehensive Plan.

I submit to you that this Resolution constitutes an undue burden on the CodeNEXT process by needlessly encumbering the work of consultants and City Staff and runs contrary to the vision of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan by placing onerous overlaid restrictions that will cripple its ability to realize its Priorities and Core Principles.  The people of Austin deserve a working Code that does not place a disproportionate burden of the City’s growing pains upon under-represented neighborhoods by allowing Neighborhood Plans to effectively “opt-out” of this growth.

The Imagine Austin Plan says as much when it writes:

Considering Austin as a whole means seeing all of its different pieces and identities and how they all fit together.  We must understand Austin on a number of levels: as a collection of distinctive, yet interconnected neighborhoods; as an educational and technological innovator; as a system of homes and jobs that need to be connected by more transportation choices; and as a government center, an expanding creative hub, and economic heart of Central Texas.  (IACP p. 13)

I firmly believe that neighborhood plans are critical tools to support the Imagine Austin Plan, and I sincerely hope that these plans serve as living documents that reflect a wide and diverse authorship, representation and transparent, democratic process.  But they cannot be a singular land use planning tool around which our Comprehensive Plan must tip-toe. 

This resolution will not serve the future vision for Austin; instead, it will further divide the city by institutionalizing walls around established neighborhoods while others feel the pressures of growth.  This is the wrong thinking for progress.  I urge you in the strongest terms to reject this resolution.

I thank you for your service, and for your consideration of my concerns in this matter.