The City of Austin Planning Commission and Council Members are poised to review Phase II amendments to Subchapter E of the Land Development Code, also known as Commercial Design Standards. The Planning Commission will consider the amendments on April 9, 2013, and City Council is scheduled to take up the amendments on April 25, 2013. These Phase II amendments only address applicability of the standards, large site provisions, lighting, glazing, and neighborhood side design standards.
Subchapter E began its long journey in 2004 under the guidance of then Council Member Brewster McCracken, who wisely advocated for more aesthetically pleasing and better designed buildings that were properly woven into the fabric of an urban environment. Subchapter E protects and promotes many of the goals of new urbanism like walkability, bikeability, liveability, and buildings that engage people as opposed to alienating them. It accomplishes this through requirements for building orientation; lighting; glazing (the facade of the building); open spaces; connectivity among spaces; the size of a sidewalk and what furniture or trees are allowed in that sidewalk space; and the promotion of vertical mixed use buildings. There are other requirements as well.
The ordinance was adopted on August 31, 2006 and went into effect on January 13, 2007. As with any City ordinance, it wasn’t perfect. Council Member McCracken knew that would be the case which is why he prudently built in a review period for the ordinance. Stakeholders from neighborhoods and the development community began reviewing the ordinance in April 2008. Everyone agreed on some items. These consensus items, known as Phase I amendments, were passed on December 14, 2009.
The non-consensus items, Phase II amendments, were a little trickier and took a little longer, but they are now finally before Planning Commission and Council. I worked on recommendations to City staff on Phase II amendments with representatives from AIA Austin and RECA. Our collective work product resulted in a letter and technical feedback summary which was submitted to staff on February 14, 2013. City staff responded to these comments, and I feel encouraged that the final Phase II amendments will adequately address major concerns.
Hopefully, this will be the last review period for awhile, and we can all get back to what we’ve been doing all along which is providing the best buildings and spaces for Austin.