Two firms, Clarion Associates from Denver and Opticos Design Inc. from Berkeley, Calif., are vying for the job of revising Austin's Land Development Code and gave presentations to Austin City Council on March 7.
In July, City Council passed the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which establishes how the city will develop and redevelop in the future. Part of the Imagine Austin plan is to revise the land use code to promote a connected and compact city.
George Adams, assistant director with Planning and Development Review department outlined four steps to the revision process, including community input, code diagnosis, draft code development and code adoption. As this process progresses, Adams said his department wants to make sure the process and end result stay in line with what the city and community envisions.
“The way we've structured the process, it's iterative,” Adams said. “So each step will be reviewed by the advisory group, the public, major stakeholder groups, the planning commission and the City Council. We want to make sure to come back to the council at each of these steps and confirm we're on the right path before we move on to the next step.”
Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he would like to see the code reduced in size and complexity through this process, not just tweaked.
“What we have now is a Land Development Code that is like a house that's been added on to about 50 times,” Leffingwell said. “The whole thing really needs to be taken down and reconstructed.”
Matthew Goebel, partner and vice president at Clarion Associates, said his team is looking forward to the challenge of revising Austin's code. He said his team wanted to build on the foundation the current code has laid out and come up with something more coherent that works well for everyone.
“We want to focus on solutions that work for Austin,” Goebel said. “We want to make sure, bottom line, that the code is clearer and easier to administer and use for everyone--the stakeholders, the public, everyone.”
Peter Park, a representative with Opticos Design Inc., said early on in the revising process, assessing the capacity of Austin, as well as understanding the city's organizational structure of permitting and planning processes is a critical step in creating a better code.
“Every city is different. We understand that,” Park said. “And so we believe that it's really important for us to engage your city agencies, everybody who is involved in the development process and especially focus on the folks who deal with the code on a daily basis. This is essential for successful implementation of your code.”
Both firms intend to engage the public to garner input and feedback for the code.
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole asked the two firms about how the code would address transportation issues and needs.
Daniel Parolek, project principal with Opticos, said he feels the issue of transportation would affect the future form of neighborhoods and added that the code could integrate thoroughfare standards into the code.
“I think we all understand to create great places, we need to create great streets as a starting point,” Parolek said. “By putting the thoroughfare standards directly into the code document, it creates a dialogue and a communication between planning and the city engineers and public works in a way that gets everybody on the same page.”
Don Elliot, senior planner with Clarion, said transportation is a challenge many cities are facing, and Clarion would use the concepts in the Imagine Austin plan to address the issue.
“Our job is [to find] which of the tools we can put in there that will lead to predictable messages to the market, messages that acknowledge where you have transportation congestion and avoid making it worse,” Elliot said.
City Council is expected to select the final firm March 21 and execute a contract by May.