A personal thought on CodeNext

Somebody said to me something along the lines that:

It’s like they wrote Code Next thinking that Austin was a big swath of empty land.

It was an interesting comment that stuck in my head, and the more I think about it the more it rings true. What isn’t being considered is what’s already in place - lot sizes, structures, etc. You can’t consider how do we get from A to B by ignoring A in the first place.

One of the most resounding examples of this is @mary.s.owens comments about the requirement that alternative dwelling units be behind the primary structure. The lot sizes, especially in Zilker, place the existing structure at the front of the lot with huge back yards. If the existing structure could become the alternative dwelling unit and a new primary structure could be built in the “back yard” of the lot, you’d open up a lot of possibilities to preserve the look of the neighborhood as well as add in more housing.

Thoughts?

I agree 100% - often, the small cottage from the 50’s could remain while allowing for a newer larger structure in the rear. I do not understand the need for the city being the defacto architectural review committee.

JpMaxMan President
September 22
Somebody said to me something along the lines that:

It’s like they wrote Code Next thinking that Austin was a big swath of empty land.

It was an interesting comment that stuck in my head, and the more I think about it the more it rings true. What isn’t being considered is what’s already in place - lot sizes, structures, etc. You can’t consider how do we get from A to B by ignoring A in the first place.

One of the most resounding examples of this is @mary.s.owens comments about the requirement that alternative dwelling units be behind the primary structure. The lot sizes, especially in Zilker, place the existing structure at the front of the lot with huge back yards. If the existing structure could become the alternative dwelling unit and a new primary structure could be built in the “back yard” of the lot, you’d open up a lot of possibilities to preserve the look of the neighborhood as well as add in more housing.

Thoughts?

The other obvious scenario being ignored is the case of a historic building (like an A.D. Stengner) on a large lot. The requirement that an ADU has to be in back could doom such a structure.

It’s like they wrote Code Next thinking that Austin was a big swath of empty land.

FWIW, I’ve had the opposite reaction: to me it feels like they took Austin’s existing land-use code and made it an order of magnitude more confusing, given the extent to which they relied upon existing zoning classifications as a baseline for their proposed changes. We wouldn’t have stuff like “transect zones” unless CodeNEXT’s authors knew full well they’d have to play defense with Austin’s NAs, seeing as it would’ve given them (in theory at least) the ability to respond that transect zones are the de facto equivalent of buffers between urban and “suburban.”

Also, I don’t see how on earth they could’ve produced a 1,000-page tome if they were essentially starting from scratch on “empty land” (a tabula rasa of sorts). I’m not sure how familiar y’all are with Euclidean zoning in its most basic form, but it can readily be summarized in 10 pages of less.

Finally, as for @mary.s.owens’s argument about ADUs: you can definitely get from A to B if you start out without the preconceived notion that ADUs need to be in the rear part of a given parcel. To me that seems like a prime example of what CodeNEXT was intended to fundamentally alter: elimination of what are essentially arbitrary controls based on the existing status quo (e.g. the base-level concept that the “big” house needs to be “out front”).

Doesn’t the latest draft do away with Transect zones?

Okay, I may need to revise my earlier statement a smidge. :thinking: I happened to stumble across the Pemberton NA’s comments on CodeNEXT, and while a lot of it is similar or identical to the complaints lodged by most other NAs (e.g. reductions in off-street parking), I actually agree with them (I know, I know…) with respect to the transect zones added to it under CodeNEXT’s first draft.

As a caveat, I’ll note that my brother and sister-in-law lived in Pemberton until recently, but in this particular case I’d say the fact hasn’t swayed my opinion per se. Rather, it simply means I happen to be particularly well-acquainted with the neighborhood, and as such agree that the transect zones placed there were seemingly inserted by someone who either knows nothing about the area or, as JP noted, operated under the assumption that Austin was a big swath of empty land.

Transect zones were intended to be a buffer between commercial and residential corridors, in areas that presently have some degree of both. I realize preservationist NAs have opposed transect zones in general, but in Pemberton’s case they’ve been placed on the streets that are literally 100% residential (and single-family) – unlike Zilker, which at least already has commercial zoning on streets that are mostly residential in the inner 'hood, but mostly or entirely commercial within the first 2-3 blocks west of S. Lamar (e.g. Collier, Hether and the western end of Bluebonnet).

While I disagree with most of the stances in their letter to the city (PDF link at the bottom of the page below), I can’t even fathom why anyone would think transect zoning is appropriate for a wholly residential neighborhood (unless they put it in because there happens to be a Mopac exit (Northwood Rd.) leading directly into Pemberton, despite it entirely being an anomaly).

http://www.pembertonheights.org/codenext

Doesn’t the latest draft do away with Transect zones?

In name, yes, but less so in fact.

So the weird thing is I don’t think Bluebonnet --> Melridge --> Robert E. Lee were designated transect zones, when they clearly should be IMHO.

The other issue is we need to not just urbanize the edges of neighborhoods, but we need to urbanize the core. Like a village center. A prime example in Zilker is the Bluebonnet market zoning should be not only expanded but upzoned so we can have a bit more commercial in the heart of our neighborhood making way for a local tavern, coffeeshop, cafe, etc.

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Yeah, I know Zilker’s transect zones left out a number of streets that already have a mix of uses (e.g. Bluebonnet near the market). That being said, while I agree with you in principle that it’d be great to allow core parts of a local neighborhood at least the option of incorporating light commercial along the lines of a coffeehouse or cafe, this’ll be a harder sell in parts of town (including Pemberton) that are literally 100% SF residential. It doesn’t even have any commercial development along its edges; it’s surrounded by Brykerwoods to the north, Old Enfield to the south, Mopac to the west and the Shoal Creek Greenbelt to the east.

Also, as for Zilker itself, I can already picture Jeff Jack’s objections if you suggested such a thing: “We already compromised so MUCH in allowing all those VMU apartment complexes with street-level retail along Zilker’s periphery! Expanding it into Zilker’s core would OBLITERATE the tender fabric that binds our treasured neighborhood together!!!” (Never mind that it already has a market and laundromat. As we know, facts are inconvenient.)

I’m pretty sure I’m used to @jjack2 objections to my ideas :wink: