Boomtown today: Defining Code Next, the city's plan to prepare for the boom

In 1997, downtown wasn't a destination and it certainly wasn't a place where a lot of people lived. And chances are, in the next 20 years, Austin will change again. Part of the city's plan to prepare is Code Next.

AUSTIN - The Austin we know today is a lot different from the of Austin 20 years ago. In 1997, downtown wasn't a destination and it certainly wasn't a place where a lot of people lived. And chances are in the next 20 years, Austin will change again. 

"If you double in population every 23 to 27 years for 180 years, one, it's constant and therefore it's predictable," said former Austin Mayor Will Wynn. "And so not to plan for something that's perfectly predictable is irresponsible."

Part of the city's plan to prepare is Code Next

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Five years ago, the City Council adopted Imagine Austin, a 30-year comprehensive vision for the city. That plan called for the land development code to be rewritten.

What's the land development code?

"The land development code is a lot of things," said City of Austin Code Next Principal Planner Jennifer Todd. "It covers zoning and so, at its core, it affects what can be built in Austin and how much, where. It's really the look and feel of our city. So when you step outside, anything that you see is a result of the land development code."

There's a saying among developers, the longer a city's land development code, the more expensive it is to build there. The City of Austin's code, stacked up, stands nearly two feet high and there are files and files of neighborhood plans and conditional overlays that also must be followed. In other words, it's pretty expensive to build in Austin.

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"Our last massive code rewrite was in 1984," said Todd. "For context, you know, Ronald Reagan was president at that time. The first Macintosh PC was released and Austin looked really different."

This rewrite could change the face of Austin. The current draft increases density, meaning more people living on smaller lots and in mixed-use developments. Some see it as a way to address the housing shortage while others argue the current housing market will just produce expensive homes on smaller lots.

And that's why what you think about it matters. 

City staff announced Thursday they're delaying the release of the third draft of Code Next. It was set to come out Nov. 28, but they need more time to review public comments and make changes. So now it will be released on Feb. 12, which is the day it was set to go to council.

After the third draft is released, city commissions will have a chance to weigh in before the draft is presented to council for approval and implementation.

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