Heritage in Community Impact article on Neighborhood Plans and CodeNEXT

Find a hard copy of Community Impact Newspaper’s Aug. 29 –
Sept. 27, 2017 edition for additional graphics and quotes from Heritage residents.


By Christopher Neely| Posted Aug. 29, 2017 at 7:40 am

Sean Kelly sits outside Elizabeth Street Café in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, not far away from the single-family home he purchased for $150,000 in 1997.

He, like many of his neighbors, said he is concerned that the zoning maps proposed by CodeNEXT—the rewrite of the city’s land development code—ignore the vision of Bouldin Creek the city adopted into policy in 2002 after the residents of the community just south of Lady Bird Lake spent many volunteer hours crafting their neighborhood plan.

Kelly, a member of the neighborhood’s contact team—the group in each neighborhood’s unique planning process that acts as a middleman between the city’s planning and zoning staff and neighborhood residents—said CodeNEXT’s disregard of the neighborhood plan will cause sweeping changes to Bouldin Creek.

“[CodeNEXT] arbitrarily and capriciously changes what was previously in statute without any real voting input by the neighborhoods it would affect,” Kelly said. “It changes significantly the land use that pre-existed and what everyone understood was what we were doing in the neighborhoods.”

Imagine Austin—the city’s 30-year comprehensive plan adopted in 2012—and CodeNEXT’s zoning proposals are too loyal to neighborhood plans, said Frank Harren, an urbanist and representative for the Tarrytown Neighborhood Association.

Citing an internal city audit released last year that asserted the plans were outdated and reference neither the city’s current nor former comprehensive master plans, Harren said there is an inherent conflict in respecting existing neighborhood plans in the CodeNEXT process.

“It’s more than complexity,” Harren said. “[Existing neighborhood plans and Imagine Austin] are in actual

The outdated plans and their effort to lock in single-family zoning in the urban core where market pressure is most intense, Harren said, exacerbate Austin’s affordability crisis and are largely to blame for what he sees as the city’s inability to move forward.

Although Imagine Austin states that achieving its goals will “require a revision of the land development code,” any rewrite of the code must “recognize, respect and reflect” the vision of neighborhood plans.

However, city staff members have said that early mistakes, a lack of city resources and the city’s rapid growth have created deep-seated issues in the neighborhood planning process that city officials say are difficult, and too intensive, to immediately amend.

A balancing act
Jerry Rusthoven, the assistant director of planning and zoning who is among the city planners working to implement CodeNEXT, said these issues have not made the CodeNEXT process any easier.

“Some people feel I’m not following the neighborhood plans closely enough, and others think [the plans] should be tossed in the garbage and ignored,” Rusthoven said. “I have to live with both [kinds of] people and also follow the adopted policy of council.”

In the case of Bouldin Creek, the neighborhood plan’s future land-use map—which zones the neighborhood for future land use and is approved as guiding policy by City Council—planned the interior of the neighborhood with single-family unit lots, which means a maximum of two units per lot. CodeNEXT proposes T3 and T4 zones for the same area, which provide the opportunity to build three and four units per lot, respectively.

Kelly, who is retired and lives on a fixed income, said today the land underneath his home is worth $325,000, and his property taxes have quadrupled since his first bill as a homeowner.

“If [CodeNEXT’s proposed zoning] goes through, our land values are going to skyrocket, whether we have any interest in putting triplexes or quads on a standard lot or not,” Kelly said.

Andy Cantu, executive director of Evolve Austin, a group advocating for CodeNEXT to be more density-aggressive in its zoning, said the lack of “missing middle” housing—such as triplexes and quadriplexes—aggravates the city’s affordability crisis and homeowners’ struggle to pay increasing taxes.

Although single-family zoning may have worked in 2002, Cantu said Austin is now a different city, and the neighborhoods and their plans need to evolve with the city.

“[Neighborhood planning] is important and people who live in neighborhoods should have a say in the process, but the way Austin is managing that process is not ideal,” he said.

Lack of resources, early mistakes
Although plans require city staffers to review and update neighborhood plans every five years, Rusthoven said none of the 30 plans, which average more than 10 years in age, have been revisited for official updates. He also said the existing neighborhood plans do not really reference a greater comprehensive plan, even though Austin Tomorrow was the comprehensive plan before Imagine Austin.

David King is the vice chairman of the city’s Small Area Planning Joint Committee, which he said was formed to figure out why Austin was so “behind the curve” in neighborhood planning. King blamed a lack of resources at the planning and zoning department.

Part of the committee’s role is to research what other cities are doing in small-area planning. As an example of best practices, King points to Seattle, where the planning areas are divided by council district, within which are individual neighborhoods. Seattle also has a separate department of neighborhoods that works with the planning and zoning department and the neighborhoods to draft and update neighborhood plans.

King said the existing plans need to be reconciled with Imagine Austin, but those changes need to occur as part of an involved process with the neighborhoods—not through the sole discretion of CodeNEXT planners.

“The plans shouldn’t be locked in time, but the process of amending them needs to be by the neighborhood working with the city. I think we can do that,” King said.

Moving forward
Although Rusthoven agreed that existing plans need updates and reconciliation with Imagine Austin, he said the planning and zoning department’s plate is full, and the lack of resources in the planning and zoning department keeps that from being an immediate priority.

“Council said we’re supposed to go back and update the plans every five years; we haven’t done it for a single one of them yet,” Rusthoven said. “Right now we’re working on the CodeNEXT process, and when we’re done we’re going to be looking at the new areas to map. I can’t tell you updating plans is the first thing we’re going to do after CodeNEXT because I don’t think it is.”

However, he said the city is learning from past mistakes and adapting its process. Rusthoven said neighborhood planning after CodeNEXT will be more deliberate and based on specific criteria—such as expected growth and areas near upcoming mobility bond projects—as opposed to the free-for-all, next-in-line strategy from before that gave the city its existing landscape of neighborhood plans.

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Heritage neighbor’s clothes-drying commentary in the Statesman

The Austin American Statesman recently published our neighbor Susan Van Haitsma’s commentary on the benefits and pleasures of line-drying clothes.


Commentary: Here’s one way you could feel better in the scorching heat

Updated: 5:12 p.m. Friday, June 23, 2017 |  Posted: 5:03 p.m. Friday, June 23, 2017

When summer temperatures soar and we are encouraged to find ways to reduce energy, I take extra satisfaction in my favorite household task: hanging out the laundry on a clothesline.

During Austin summers — even in the shade in humid conditions — laundry often dries more quickly on the line than it would in an electric or gas dryer. As a lifelong clothesline aficionado, I enjoy “hanging out” all year, but especially during these furnace-like days, I look around and wonder why more people don’t do it. As one easy way to lower greenhouse gases — particularly in the Southwest — isn’t air-drying a no-brainer? Let’s ride this heat wave.

Let me count the ways I love hanging out. First, because it’s green and makes efficient use of our natural resources without damaging or costing anything. Our abundant sunlight is a natural purifier — and who doesn’t love the fragrance of sun-dried clothes and bed linens? I also find that laundry waving in the breeze is beautiful. Think of the picturesque photos of laundry on clotheslines around the world. I’d like to see such scenes return to this country, where they once were common.

Hanging out also is good exercise and is meditative, not so different than a yoga practice. And, if your yard, like mine, does not have a privacy fence, pinning laundry affords extra occasions to say howdy to your neighbors. “Hey, bro, just hanging out. You?”

I came by my love of hanging out naturally. An early family photo shows a happy girl of about 4 in her boots in the backyard handing clothespins to her mom. I groused about other household tasks, but hanging the laundry was something I always enjoyed — and I think that’s because my parents did, too. Even through their elder years, my folks continued to use a clothesline in all seasons in Wisconsin, using the basement during winter. My farm-woman Michigan grandmother hung bedsheets outdoors throughout the winter, carrying them indoors stiff as boards to thaw in the kitchen. Living as I do in a favorable climate, I imagine my grandmother’s surprise if I were not using the solar energy so near at hand.

I understand that many living situations in Austin don’t appear to lend themselves to stringing up clotheslines, but there are more opportunities than one might think. Hanging clothes to dry indoors on clothes racks and hangers can be a great way to make air moisture levels healthier when air-conditioning in summer and heat in winter tend to dry out the air.

Most new apartments and lofts have balconies where racks also could be set up. On a few occasions when a green lawn has been handy, I’ve laid out laundry on the grass, where the oxygen is as beneficial as the sunlight. If there are neighborhood or building regulations that forbid clotheslines, this is a good time to challenge such rules. Because most ways of making Austin a greener city are hard, it seems silly to place unnecessary hindrances on the easy ways.

Cutting back on the use of a clothes dryer may be a small step toward energy reduction, but many people making small energy savings add up to big savings. There are complex ways to make use of our sun and warm air, but some forms of solar technology are simple and available to all of us. Every time I pin up or take down what I consider my prayer flags on the clothesline, I feel good. Going green is a daily pleasure — especially on the warmest days.

Van Haitsma lives in Central Austin.


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Brentwood/Mayor Adler CodeNEXT meeting recap

The Brentwood Neighborhood Association hosted Mayor Adler at a CodeNEXT meeting/forum on June 19 that was very well attended, with a crowd of over 400 people.  People literally lined the walls of the gymnasium at Faith Lutheran and Councilmember Pool said she was awed by the turnout.

Individuals from Allendale, Crestview, Heritage, and Brentwood neighborhoods spoke about CodeNEXT and its impact.  Betsy Greenberg spoke for Heritage, describing the area and the likely ramifications of allowing bigger buildings and more units in the only UT area neighborhood recommended for T4 zoning.

Mayor Adler answered questions on a wide variety of concerns, including the targeting of older neighborhoods, gentrification, impacts on rents, taxes, schools, flooding, neighborhood plans, safety, and the creating of non-conforming properties.  The mayor’s message was “we can change things or we’ll fix it”  and said if they can’t make this work, he’ll vote against it.  It seemed that at least 95% of the audience was deeply concerned about the changes that will come with CodeNEXT.  Hopefully the Mayor has an increased understanding of those concerns.  The Pemberton neighborhood is planning a similar CodeNEXT meeting with the Mayor.  Information about that meeting will be posted when it is available.

Heritage is lucky to have people like Betsy Greenberg that can speak eloquently on our behalf. And it was wonderful to see a strong contingent of Heritage residents at the Brentwood meeting. The message I took from the evening was that if we don’t like the proposals in CodeNEXT we need to speak up. The Mayor is right that it needs to be fixed. If we want a better development code we need to email our Council & Mayor, sign petitions and resolutions, attend meetings, and let our voices be heard!

Gretchen Flatau


Heritage Neighborhood Association

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Heritage is #7 Austin neighborhood in Austin Monthly ranking

Austin Monthly considered 129 Austin neighborhoods and ranked Heritage #7 in its annual “Best Neighborhoods” issue. Now on newsstands, the July 2017 cover story features 20 neighborhoods, with Heritage ranked ahead of Hyde Park and Clarksville.

Ranking criteria included housing, education, safety, and ambience. Heritage was scored best overall in walkability.

Thanks, Jay Farrell, for the tip!

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CodeNEXT petition available to sign

Titled “Keep CodeNext Transects Out of Our Neighborhoods,” the petition aims to increase the awareness of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, the City Council, and other parties of the strong, citywide sentiment against the haphazard and neighborhood-destroying qualities of the proposed CodeNext zoning.


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CodeNEXT map comments open til Fri. July 7

You can comment on the CodeNext draft map until July 7th.  You don’t need to register or sign in to comment on the map.  Simply enter specific comments about the proposed zoning on a specific parcel, or you can enter general comments.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to the CodeNext draft map link https://codenext.engagingplans.org/codenext-comparison-map
  2. Enter an address where it says “Select location” above the map or navigate to a location that you’d like to comment on.  If you’re entering comments on a specific address make sure the address you want to comment on is correct.  Be careful as the website seems to want to change the location you click on.  Comment in the box that says Please enter comments about the proposed zoning on a specific parcel or zoning district here.  You can comment as you like, for example “allowing a multiplex here is inappropriate” or “this property will be nonconforming if the intermediate setback is assigned.”
  3. If you prefer to enter comments where it says Please enter any general comments on the proposed zoning here, you can be more general.  It is probably a good idea to click on an address within Heritage if you’re commenting about Heritage’s proposed zoning.  You can get ideas about what to post from the excellent letters, online posts, and comments on the change.org petition.  These or similar comments can be entered in the textbox.
  4. Entering your contact information is optional.  When you are finished, click “Submit.”
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Heritage NA resolution about CodeNEXT

The Heritage Neighborhood Association unanimously passed this resolution at its June 5, 2017 meeting. It will be shared with the mayor, City Council, CodeNEXT staff, and land use commissioners.

Heritage Resolution on CodeNEXT

WHEREAS the Heritage neighborhood, located in central Austin and bordered by 29th Street, 38th Street, Guadalupe Street, and North Lamar Boulevard, is a diverse, walkable, urban neighborhood,

WHEREAS in 2004 the Austin City Council approved a Neighborhood Plan for the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood planning area, including the West University planning area that includes both single family neighborhoods such as Heritage as well as the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO), and the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan specifies that the Neighborhood Plans be respected,

WHEREAS the neighborhood plan represented a careful compromise involving homeowners, renters, business owners, and students. That compromise established an overlay (UNO) for the West Campus area that allows dense multifamily development, mixed use developments along the corridors, and conditional overlays to protect the integrity, historic character, and safety of the single family neighborhoods, and

WHEREAS in 2014 the City Council passed and in 2016 made permanent laws that reduced the allowed occupancy of unrelated adults in newly constructed single family homes with the express purpose of discouraging demolitions in Heritage and other neighborhoods that had been affected by demolition for the purpose of constructing high occupancy houses, and

WHEREAS the proposed transect  zoning in the Heritage neighborhood will dramatically increase the allowed density in the middle of the neighborhood and thus encourage demolition of existing affordable housing and redevelopment of more expensive properties, and

WHEREAS the proposed  T4MS  zoning along Guadalupe and Lamar does not promote affordable housing,

BE IT RESOLVED that the members of the Heritage Neighborhood Association respectfully request that for our neighborhood, CodeNEXT retain the existing zoning and conditional overlays consistent with the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan and current occupancy limits on unrelated adults in single family homes. Further, if transect zones are used within the Heritage Neighborhood, they be limited to 38th Street, Guadalupe Street, and North Lamar Boulevard to allow residential density on those corridors.

Approved June 5, 2017, by unanimous vote by the Heritage Neighborhood Association. The Heritage Neighborhood Association Community Meeting was held at 7pm, June 5th, 2017 in the Pioneer Bank Community Room.

Gretchen Flatau, President

Heritage NA CodeNEXT Resolution June 5 2017

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