Council far from consensus as Land Development Code passes latest hurdle

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — “I do believe that on this panel we all recognize there’s a desire for us to compromise things that we believe to be right,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Moments later, meeting adjourned, Adler could be seen having a heated conversation with Council members Kathie Tovo and Ann Kitchen.

Adler adjourned the meeting at 9:41 p.m., after Kitchen requested to speak. Adler remarked that the elected officials already had the chance to give their final thoughts, but put it to a vote.

Council members Kitchen, Tovo, Alison Alter and Leslie Pool voted to continue the meeting, the rest did not.

It was a fitting end to a week where the four elected officials found themselves in the minority on most Land Development Code votes.

Meanwhile, Austin is one step closer to overhauling its code, a process eight years in the making.

It’ll shape how Austin is developed for decades, as the city is expected to continue growing explosively.

The voting process is now two-thirds done. Council approved the code on second reading 7-4.

A third and final vote is expected in late-March.

The second reading has lent itself to some tense moments on the dais, and Thursday was no exception.

BACKGROUND: Council takes on second reading of Austin’s land development code overhaul

Tovo, whose district represents areas of Central Austin, has said this area of town has been unfairly targeted for rezoning.

“Many of the most dramatic changes have been proposed on top of, and even in the middle of existing neighborhoods that are just the types of complete communities we say we’d like to see in every part of the city,” she said.

Along with Kitchen, Pool and Alter, Tovo says she plan to unveil a proposal that would significantly reducing transition zones.

Transition zones fall between single-family home neighborhoods and highly dense transportation corridors, and are well-represented in the new code.

Tovo’s proposal would also include a planning process that she says would empower communities and neighborhoods to recommend their own changes to accommodate density.

“This kind of zoning from on high is not appropriate,” said Tovo. “And it’s not Austin.”

One of Tovo’s amendments would have reduced transition zones to two lots but was voted down Thursday.

At that time, Mayor Adler asked if Tovo would vote for the land development code as a whole if he voted on the transition zone change.

It was the second time in two days Adler made such a proposal, in an effort to reach a broader consensus.

“It’s pretty apparent that there are seven people on this council who are ready to pass the code,” he said.

“I remain the optimist and in search of a path that will have us be able to bring more people together than that.”

Other council members seemed less likely to shift positions.

“What I’m hearing people want is small neighborhood planning, what’s good for my neighborhood, and that’s not what this process has ever been,” said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza.

This is a comprehensive revision of our code, she said.

The vote happened one day after an arguably more contentious evening of discussion, where some council members said the process was being rushed.

“Sorry if we’re asking questions about a 1,300-page document that was dropped less than 2 weeks ago,” said Alison Alter.

“That is our job. We were elected to vet this. And I’m sorry you have a timetable where this needs to be railroaded through.”

The Mayor told KXAN Thursday: “If there was ever a process that doesn’t look like a railroad to me, it’s a process that goes on for 8 years.”

KXAN received a joint statement from the council members who voted against the rewrite — Alter, Kitchen, Pool and Tovo — early Friday morning.

It read, in part, the code “remains unclear whether the code will do what is intended and needed.”

“The new code, with all its parts, must work together. Austin must get this right,” it said.

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