The New Code in Town: Code NEXT

The following article was included in the April 2017 newsletter. Access a PDF Version for future reference.
By Mike Curry and Barbara McArthur

In mid-April, new zoning for every property in Austin will be revealed. Code NEXT is a split code, with some neighborhoods being put into transect zoning, which is “form based” while other neighborhoods will have traditional residential zoning designations. “Form based” zoning means the form and not the use is what is important, so what a building looks like is more important than what it is used for. Neighborhoods designated as transects are no longer labelled ‘residential’ as many more types of uses are now allowed. Laura Morrison, a member of the previous on City Council told the Austin Neighborhood Council that the transects were not meant to be used except in test neighborhoods that wanted to be part of the experiment, but it seems many of the close-in residential neighborhood will now be given transect zoning.

Transect Zones are designed to increase the residential density and uses in neighborhoods, reduce parking and minimize or eliminate compatibility standards.  

Transects zones are defined, in part by the width of the lot, and the new code has the greatest development potential on the smallest lots. So lots that are at least 60 or 70 feet wide are allowed less development than lots that are 50 feet wide.

Duplexes and multiple residential structures will now be allowed on all lots in single family neighborhoods. The current lot size minimum is 5,750 sq.ft. for single family homes and 7,000 sq. ft. for duplexes. The new transect code prescribes lots as small as 1875 sq. ft.  

A typical lot of 50’ x 125’ lot would allow as 3 dwelling units per lot in T3 categories, and 9 dwelling units per lot in T4 categories. With subdivision of these typical lots to the lower lot standards, 5-8 dwelling units could be built in T3 Transect designations, and up to 11 dwelling units in T4 designations.

Transects permit commercial short term rentals, day care centers, small group homes,, and home occupations, all with signage, in converted homes or new structures in all neighborhoods and on all lots with a Transect classification. With an administratively approved Minor Use Permit (MUP) or a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), large day care services, art galleries. Meeting facilities, community recreation, are also allowed.  

Transects provide Sub-zones (called “Open zones”) which allow commercial uses such as office, retail, personal services, food sales and restaurant uses in converted homes or new structures. The distinctions in the current code between office and retail uses are largely eliminated.

The distinction between medical offices and other professional offices reflected in the existing Neighborhood Office district, which excluded medical office use, no longer exists. Additional uses most notably bars and lounges and larger restaurants are permitted as a conditional use in several Transect neighborhoods with the approval of the Land Use Commission. In Transect T4 Main Street, hotels, banks and larger retail and medical services are permitted even without an Open subzone. It is not clear if the conversion to a designated “Open zones” is even a zoning change. This is not addressed in the document. Bars and nightclubs are especially disruptive. In the current code, to open a bar outside the CBD requires a zoning change. Transect zoning has dramatically increased the ability to open a bar outside the CBD. Compatibility standards in the current ordinance which set back bar parking 200’ from homes are also eliminated.  

In some Transect zones, Bars require only a Minor Use Permit which does not require a hearing or Council approval though some as yet undetermined administrative appeal will be allowed. In other Transect zones, they are a permitted use or conditional use.

Transects allow taller buildings (and a broader range and size of commercial uses) on “main streets” through and adjoining neighborhoods and in the T5 Transect zones. Transects up to and including T4N.SS are limited to 2 stories and properties in these transects are now required to have 20 ft. setbacks compared to the existing 10 foot setback for SF-2 and SF-3 properties. But from there the permissible height increases and in the T5 zoning category the setbacks don’t keep up. For example, in T5N.SS a 4 story building only requires a 20 ft. rear setback. In T5U.SS, T5U and T5MS up to 6 stories are allowed (which may be located on arterial like Burnet Road).  

The current compatibility standards require a 200 to 400 foot setback from 4 to 6 story buildings. only a 50 ft. setback is required from an abutting 4-6 story building inn Code NEXT transects. If the building is across the street or alley from a home, then even this minimal setback is not required.

Furthermore, although the text is too ambiguous to know for sure, it appears that structured parking a/k/a parking garages, at least when not incorporated into the “primary building,” are subject to only a 5 foot setback in the rear in the T5 Transects. If true, this is a setback loophole large enough to park a truck in. Side setbacks are non-existent or woefully deficient when a tall building is next to a low intensity residential use. These rules also do not address residences across the street and do not adequately protect homes across an alley from tall buildings. The code provisions need to be consulted on a property by property basis, but clearly in many cases the compatibility setback standards are half-baked not “baked in” as contended. The compatibility standards involve more than just setbacks. They also involve scale and clustering, screening, lighting and noise requirements. Screening of parking, mechanical equipment, storage and refuse collection (refuse must also be at least 20 feet from housing) and screening between districts where a commercial district abuts a residential district are required in the current ordinance. In Code NEXT The only things screened in transects are: large waste receptacles, loading docks, overhead doors and service entries.

 No Buffer Zones are required in transects, only in non-transect zones. For example a house across the street from the rear of a commercial business, or abutting a commercial business, no longer requires screening. For areas in a Code NEXT residential zone, a 25 foot setback is required, with screening.

The McMansion Ordinance that prescribes that infill housing must maintain compatibility with surrounding homes, through setbacks, planes and FAR limits. McMansion standards are loosely integrated into residential zones, and absent from transects. Another aspect of compatibility in the present code is the application of the traffic generation limits as determined through a Neighborhood Traffic Impact Analysis. This provision has not yet been released for Code Next but is projected to be included. This will need to be watched to see if (how) it is weakened. Transects reduce or eliminate altogether parking requirements for several non-residential (commercial) uses in these zones, effectively transferring parking to the neighborhood streets.  

A 2,500 sq. ft. medical office is required to provide zero parking for staff and patients. A 3,000 sq. ft. retail store, general office or bank is required provide only a single parking space. 

And, the Director of Planning, whose decision is unreviewable, may further reduce or eliminate the on-site parking requirement for a variety of reasons such as proximity to a corridor, or bike racks or off-site parking 1,000 feet away. Further, the proposed off-site parking provision eliminates the factors to be considered as part of the application process such as the impact of the parking facility on traffic patterns and nearby residents Approved Neighborhood Plans will constitute an overlay zone the purpose of which is to require property to be “developed in a manner consistent with the goals, policies and objectives” of the Neighborhood Plans. The extent to which these will be considered in unclear.

Attention must be paid to the extent to which the plans address use, parking, lot size and density. To be remembered is that Neighborhood Plans are subject to amendment by the Council and those amendment provisions are carried forward into the proposed code.

BNA April 5 Steering Committee Meeting

Brentwood Steering Committee Meeting Agenda
April 5, 2017
7:00 pm at the Lions Club (1103 Justin Lane)

1. Welcome

2. Additions to Agenda/Guests
-     Cici Scott, CUP for Austin Classical School
-     Upcoming Guests:
-     May:   City Council Member Leslie Pool
-     June:  County Commissioner Brigid Shea

3. Old Business
-   Rocks for BNA Sign at Koenig and Lamar
-   Arroyo Seco Dedication – Find a Date/Make a Plan
-     1301 W. Koenig Lane Update
-     Approval of February SC Minutes

4. New Business
-     Poop Station Roster and Alternates
-     Jeff Davis Parking Permits
-     April 18th CodeNext Mapping

5. Committee Reports
A.      Transportation
B.      Finance
C.      Communication
D.      Police
E.      Zoning
F.       ANC 
G.      Parks and Recs

6. Adjourn