Community Viewpoint on CodeNEXT
By Save Barton Creek Association
Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) holds that a new land development code in Austin, aka CodeNEXT, must uphold and improve watershed protection features in the old code and bring Austin into our more sustainable future. The current draft of the code holds both promise and problems, as outlined in this community viewpoints paper.
SBCA has been working to protect Austin watersheds since 1979 through education, conservation, and advocacy. Notably, SBCA members helped draft Austin’s first watershed ordinances in the 1980s and gave input to the esteemed Save Our Springs Ordinance in 1992. In 1987, we advocated for the creation of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD). Today SBCA continues our proud history of safeguarding Austin watersheds and connecting citizens to nature through our numerous programs and partnerships.
Save Barton Creek Association has been following the CodeNEXT process and is a contributor and signatory to a document entitled “Community Priorities for CodeNEXT.” This Community Priorities document was written and supported by a diverse stakeholder group including several environmental organizations and was published in January, prior to the release of the first draft of the code. The Community Priorities document states that the code “must include standards to conserve water and the natural environment, reduce climate change and become climate resilient, protect existing neighborhoods and trees, reduce development sprawl, support healthy communities, promote equitable development, prevent displacement, and lead to truly affordable housing.” SBCA stands by these priorities.
The Community Priorities Document indicated that “CodeNEXT shall require that new and redevelopment mitigate and reduce flooding, runoff pollution, and downstream erosion.” We are pleased to see that the CodeNEXT Draft:
- Maintains prior water quality protections such as requirements from the Watershed Protection Ordinance including standards in the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone
- Maintains urban forest protection and parkland dedication
- Adds a new requirement for beneficial use of stormwater that requires sites to keep rainfall from smaller storms on-site and either soak it into the ground or use it to offset potable water use. This encourages use of a suite of Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) practices
- No longer allows an exception to flood mitigation requirements for redevelopments that are not increasing impervious cover
- Adds new requirement that sites performing grading must protect soils from compaction or restore compacted soils after construction
Austin’s commitment to reducing flooding and run-off pollution should be further strengthened in the code by:
1. In new small lot zoning categories, any residential zoning category that allows additional impervious cover beyond the current 45% allowed in SF3, should
- Be required to offset any additional impervious cover above 45% through Green Stormwater Infrastructure methods such as on-site beneficial re-use.
- GSI water quality provisions should apply even if redeveloped on a lot by lot basis, since in aggregate these changes will significantly increase impervious cover.
2. In a new development code category for Light Site Plan/ Residential Heavy Site Plans (3-9 units), there must be stormwater requirements so that “missing middle” housing makes up for any increase impervious cover in our watersheds and does not increase flooding or decrease water quality. This code category should:
- Include the “Beneficial Use of Stormwater” requirement
- Include all requirements in sections 25-8 and 25-7 of the old code which include drainage requirements and water quality requirements
- Allow traditional requirements to be traded for a palette of Green Stormwater Infrastructure requirements similar to Functional Green
3. The 8,000 sq ft trigger for water quality control requirements (Section 23-10E) should be reduced to 5,000 sq ft AND be coupled with reinstating the previous COA requirement of 20% impervious cover on the net site area as a trigger for water quality control requirements. 5,000 sq ft was recommended by COA staff in 2013 and is consistent with other COA policies and is standard with the US EPA and several major US cities.
4. Green Stormwater Infrastructure should be incorporated into the Street Design Guide. This may require the Complete Streets Master Plan to be amended so that any trees or landscaping that are below grade and have inlets to receive stormwater. Additionally, any street that is wider than one lane each way should incorporate GSI in the form of curb cuts into planted areas anytime Public Works renovates the road. We must maximize infiltration in public right of ways.
5. Landscape guidelines for residential, commercial, and parking lots should require that new landscaping be consistent with the ideal of GSI including grading to allow landscaping to receive water from the site.
6. Before a final version of CodeNEXT is reached, a watershed level analysis must be done for all Austin watersheds that illustrates that the entitlements and corresponding requirements will not increase flooding on a watershed by watershed basis.
We have provided a limited analysis of CodeNEXT, focused on watershed issues. Save Barton Creek Association will continue to remain engaged in the CodeNEXT process, provide input on various aspects of the code, and support Austin’s sustainable future. We especially look forward to viewing and analyzing the Functional Green and Street Design sections of the code. We ask that the City of Austin and consultants take the above recommendations seriously so that as Austin’s other Imagine Austin priorities are being met, our future land development code protects residents and ecological systems from the dangers of flooding, erosion, and ecological degradation.
Questions or comments may be directed to SBCA Executive Director, Angela Richter at email@example.com
 Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) refers to a set of design features in buildings and landscapes that capture rain on-site where it falls to retain and potentially re-use. This may include rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain. GSI has been endorsed by the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan (2012), the Water Resource Planning Task Force (2014), the Flood Mitigation Task Force (2016), and the Green Infrastructure Working Group (2016)