Saturday, September 20, 2014

Neighborhood Character and Compatibility

CodeNEXT is an ambitious project to rewrite the land use code for Austin. The present code is the result of years of incremental changes. It is difficult to access and understand. Land developers and owners, as well as citizens are all unhappy with the existing code. Land developers and owners think that the code is too difficult to apply taking too long, being too expensive, and being too restrictive. Citizens think that the code doesn't do enough to protect neighborhood and does not employ a democratic process.

There are two concepts in CodeNEXT that would apply to the rezoning of the Marshall Tract – the concept of neighborhood character and the concept of compatibility.

“Every neighborhood in Austin has a distinct character worth preserving and building upon. The diversity of lifestyles and uniqueness of our living environments has given our city its personality and feel. The new Code will put a framework in place to better protect, enhance, and ensure the long-term stability and appeal of our neighborhoods.

A revised land development code could:
  • Provide a document that is more accessible and easier to understand for all users.
  • Provide more effective zoning tools to address specific issues.
  • Help define what we can build near or within neighborhoods.
  • Make neighborhood plans and visions are easier to access and understand.
  • Ensure that new buildings will make good neighbors with existing ones – in terms of their size, character and design, and allowed uses.
  • Reinforce the mix of creative small businesses that prosper in Austin’s neighborhoods, integral to defining their character.”

Compatible is defined as (in

  • capable of existing or living together in harmony
  • able to exist together with something else
  • consistent; congruous (often followed by with)

According to the CodeNEXT team, compatibility is not defined in the present land use code. Their definition is:

“A development, building, and/or land use that is designed to be able to exist or occur without conflict with its surroundings – in terms of its uses, scale, height, massing and location on its site.”

The CodeNEXT team also points out that that “there is a missing middle”, for example between residential and high rise office buildings, in the existing code. This transition zone is different than a buffer.

The CodeNEXT team also pointed out that one size does not fit all. The code for compatibility must consider the context. The example they illustrate in the drawing is an urban, walkable context. Lost Creek is a suburban, drivable context.

The character of Lost Creek is incompatible with the character of the Cousins proposed development. The existing plans by Cousins does not provide a transition from the high rise office buildings to an SF2 residential setting.

Leaving the Marshall Tract zoned SF2 would be compatible with the existing Lost Creek neighborhood, and allow the developer to build in a transition zone between the new residential area and the existing office buildings, and park land.

Here's an overview of the whole CodeNEXT project.

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