Transect Zones in CodeNEXT are going to be a disaster

Just came out of the CodeNEXT CAG meeting.

Transects are going to be an unmitigated disaster. ANC will be elated when code drops. Think McMansion but worse – even “more control over making sure the building looks like a house”. Full of things like that. Max stories outside “regional centers” – downtown and the Domain – five. For the most intensive transect-zone allowed.

We won’t, unfortunately, be in the position of pushing back against major destructive changes they’ll fight for – but will be having to object to the way it’s already designed. Much harder position, I think.

Slides and video will eventually be posted here http://austintexas.gov/cityclerk/boards_commissions/meetings/111_1.htm (not sure what the delay usually is). Will type up some more of my notes but I didn’t get everything and it’s bad.

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Thanks for the update and impressions coming out of the meeting, @josiahstevenson. I’m looking forward to your notes.

Okay, so video is here http://austintx.swagit.com/play/12092016-604. Start 50 minutes in to Item 1.

What I wrote down at the time:

##Transects

  • Might actually give scope for more restrictive zoning. Every example is something legal under current zones that they can prevent with new paradigm. Variety of things that can be “SF3” apparently inappropriate.
  • Differentiation between real density and the “effect” of buildings visually. Shows example of three apt builtings – small, medium, and large; different styles, setbacks, etc – and asks the room how dense they are. Punchline: exactly the same, because the units in the big-looking contemporary building are a lot larger and the ceilings higher than the small, old building next to it.
  • Might actually allow more unit-density – but in buildings with more Kosher form factors.

###Naming

T +  [#]    +  [form descriptor]   + [optionally, Variation in Range of Uses]
  • [#] : intensity. For us, one of {3, 4, 5, 6}. Higher #, more intensive
  • [form descriptor] : one of {NE, N, MS, U, UC}
  • NE : “Neighborhood Edge”
    • House-form
    • Generally more strictly residential, bigger setbacks
  • N : “Neighborhood”
    • House-form
    • Space between Bldgs
    • Maybe flexible uses
  • MS: “Main Street”
    • block-form
    • maybe space btw bldgs, maybe not
    • Can have near-continuous frontage; adj to neighborhood
    • Example: Quacks in Hyde Park
  • U: “Urban”
    • Street of near continuous bldg frontage in mixed usage setting
  • UC: “Urban Core”
    • downtown

T3-NE

  • Allandale Crestview
  • Wide/vaguely ranchhouse-like
  • maybe ADUs okay

T4

  • adds “missing middle”
  • 4 plexes etc. Maybe larger stuff

T4-MS

  • lowest place you find townhomes

Stresses over and over that transect doesn’t mean upzoning. He’s heard that “myth” everywhere

Over and over: T6 is only for “regional centers”


More to come.

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@josiahstevenson, thank you for posting the link and notes! Having watched the videos I would have preferred “concern” over “disaster” in the subject line , but we mostly support free speech here.

My biggest concern, and opinion on the worst possible “disastrous” outcome would be status quo, so lets please be mindful that is not inconceivable. Opticos Design was an excellent choice as a consultant, they have many bright hard working people fully engaged on CodeNEXT, as does the City.

The proposal is a framework. Form based. Form can mean look around, if you see something one place, then it is appropriate on properties similarly situated nearby. We can’t even do that simple piece of math today, so by reducing politics in obvious situations we reduce the need for many (expensive / time consuming) zoning requests, Planning Commission / ZAP / Council meetings that are a drain on so many peoples time, community goodwill, and prioritization of scarce resources - like Council time. It will shut down the portion of the NIMBY playbook that says object to everything to make it painful to build in Austin.

The densest (“unlimited height”) transects - T6 - that will be shown on the draft maps is reportedly in a couple of limited areas - I believe that is not inconsistent with Imagine Austin?

Where policy makers have the opportunity to step up is in advocating for more assertive mapping. West Campus (University Neighborhood Overlay) used to be short, now it is tall - a “175 foot” building is under construction 2 blocks from SF3 off MLK Jr. Blvd.

Please, let’s give the process a chance. Great to have you on the team!

So I’m mostly concerned that the availability of some of the transect zones could make it easier for HPNA/ANC/etc to preserve the building (not regulatory) status quo – with an even more powerful version of McMansion baked in.

The densest (“unlimited height”) transects - T6 - that will be shown on the draft maps is reportedly in a couple of limited areas - I believe that is not inconsistent with Imagine Austin?

Yes but highest T5 tops out at six stories. So if you use transect zones all over the city, you can’t have midrise on the IA corridors. Or anywhere else other than downtown and the domain, for that matter. I live in a newly-built seven story on Lamar, which it sounds like would be too high for T5 – and therefore likely proscribed by the way they’re doing this.

The proposal is a framework. Form based. Form can mean look around, if you see something one place, then it is appropriate on properties similarly situated nearby. We can’t even do that simple piece of math today, so by reducing politics in obvious situations we reduce the need for many (expensive / time consuming) zoning requests, Planning Commission / ZAP / Council meetings that are a drain on so many peoples time, community goodwill, and prioritization of scarce resources - like Council time.

So I agree in principle with the form-based framework – it just sounds like this process might not change for projects that are either too dense or insufficiently “house-like”. It will be easier to open an office in a houseform, or build a houseform you intend to lease as an office, but might not be easier at all to build a cottage court, row of townhomes, or blockular multiplex.

I just had thought we would be mostly defending the framework against requests for changes aimed at designing it around preservation. I fear we’re instead going to be having to push for changes of our own right out of the gate if we want it designed in a way that “favors” or “defaults” densification. I think that’s a much harder place to be in, especially given how ill-prepared I think we are for a real fight. For now, I stand by my suspicion that this will be a disaster.

But of course I recognize that progress has been made and will continue at least in some places. Of course we should be giving the process a chance – but that doesn’t change the need to get a lot more ready for war than we are. Need to prepare for the process to blow the chance we give it.

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Great thoughts / points made certainly, including:

What are we doing to get ready? Perhaps suggest that as an agenda item for the FAN Board to discuss tonight if not already initiated. @alyshalynn recently sent out an invitation to do same

Do we need another transect? I believe mention was made in the CAG CodeNEXT briefing that they were evaluating adding one - maybe it will be at the high end?

I wonder if the Lamar buildings you referenced fall within the DMU-CO-60 form factor, which has been approved on at least four addresses in 2016 as urban infill on the less dense portion of the downtown grid. These will co-exist with older buildings that have more of a traditional single family form. 60 feet, if it becomes the new baseline in some areas will be a big improvement over 35, understand many would like to see higher and in more cases - but the later is dependent on mapping.