City Manager Spencer Cronk has asked City Council to decide four fundamental policy questions before staff resumes work on the land development code. Cronk did the right thing by putting these questions to Council. They are intensely political questions about the future growth of the city. They cannot be settled by staff. The CodeNext process floundered mostly because staff was tasked with trying to resolve deep political disagreements through a technocratic code-writing process. Staff produced a code that displeased virtually every faction in the city. But staff’s job should have been to implement policy, not to formulate it. It is past time for Council to settle these questions.
Cronk requests Council’s guidance on four topics: housing capacity, missing middle housing, compatibility regulations, and parking. The memo lays out the competing policy concerns presented by each topic. Then it suggests that Council choose one of three options. The menu for each topic is the same. The first option is to maintain the status quo. The second is to adopt the approach of the last CodeNext draft. And the third is to make a more dramatic change. There are long appendices that provide context for each option.
The memo also asks Council to decide whether to adopt the text of the code and map concurrently or instead to adopt the text first and delay its effective date until the map is approved. (The memo points out that Council could choose to amend the code rather than adopt a completely new code, but staff recommends against that and I hope Council doesn’t seriously consider it.)
We should adopt the map and text at the same time. We won’t be able to tell whether our goals are being achieved without having both. This is staff’s recommendation. The complication with adopting them concurrently is that staff has been unwilling to apply the new code to much of the city without detailed planning. The last map accordingly left much of the city to be governed by current code—mostly areas with their own overlays, such as PUDs, the University Neighborhood Overlay and Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts such as Hyde Park. Council has three options here, although the memo doesn’t spell them out as clearly as the others: it can give staff a free hand to maintain current zoning wherever it deems appropriate; it can direct staff to apply the new zoning everywhere; or it can direct staff to apply the new zoning to some types of areas but not others. For example, Council could direct that the new base zoning be applied to NCCDs (which already have a base zoning) but not to PUDs (which usually do not).
Council ultimately needs to resolve this and the other issues. Thanks to Cronk's memo, these issues are now, finally, teed up for decision.