Austin LDC Subchapter F – parse this

this is for City of Austin Architects, Design Builders and Contractors.

ever feel like you are solving a Rubik’s Cube inside an M.C. Escher etching when trying to conform to whatever new labyrinthine code complexities they decide to willy-nilly throw into the Land Development Code Sausage? i mean, the whole damn thing went down the rabbit hole when brewster mccracken shoved subchapter F  down everyone’s throat – right?  for non-practitioners this is the so called “McMansion Ordinance” – which is also colloquially called the “McFranken Ordinance” or the “McCracken Ordinance” – that was originally implemented in 2006, amended in 2008 and which has constantly tormented city staff and design professionals ever since.

any way you slice it the thing is about as bad a example of public policy you can find. let’s ignore just for a moment the way it was passed – and then eventually and arduously implemented – but can anyone argue that this thing isn’t costing design professionals, engineers and builders millions and millions and millions of dollars a year? anyone doubt that the city bill trying to deal with this piece of  finely crafted legislation doesn’t run into tens of millions year? here’s an idea for city council. how about throwing a couple hundred thousand at a study to tell everyone that this piece of work collectively cost us a hundred million in flat-out-plain-old wasted man-hours.

anyway, as CodeNext was decent enough to notice, not only did they (seemingly without restraint) throw everything they could think of into this single subchapter, they couldn’t even care enough to follow half established formatting. so now you can’t intelligently figure out what is a clause, what is a sub-clause, what is a sub-sub-subclause and what is a chapter, or a subchapter or a sub-sub chapter in terms of how it relates to the rest of the code. subchapter F is like a scrap heap when you get in there. for instance, try and dive in and somehow magically determine when they are redefining well established definitions, when they are modifying it slightly to suite their needs, or when they are leaving it as is – or when they are just plain old ignoring something.

go in and talk to city staff about the restrictions in this section of the code and watch the eyes roll and shoulders shrug. then watch some poor SOB – doing the best he/she can – get in front of  – what is that thing called these days? – the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission? it’s like something out of Kafka.

sometimes i think they consulted some distopian ray bradbury novel and decided to deliberately make it all completely uninterpretable to try and grind everything to a halt. i mean, i had a friend who was an english major who read some of it and he was like “dude, i can’t even being to interpret that because the thing is written in like quadruple negative!”. plus, even worse, they sold it’s utility to the public – by creating the proverbial metaphorical wolf in sheep’s clothing – by saying it was intended to solve some kind of city-wide emergency related to flooding instead of the actual apparent attempt to /somehow/ limit development. then they compound the lunacy by trying to implement this by deliberately excluding professional practitioners from providing sound input. why bother studying the topic or getting actual practitioners involved? i mean, who’s got the time? why not just jump in and start turning wrenches.

or maybe someone was reading Machiavelli Cliff Notes and woke up one morning and said “i have an idea – let’s write a uninterpretable code intended to limit development, write it according to some undefined criteria, and in some uninterpretable way – and then when they have to /interpret/ this uninterpretable garbage they will have to do so in a way that limits development in ALL ways because they can’t figure out what we meant!”

don’t get me started on  building code enforcement or how the code is simply straight up DESIGN ILLITERATE in this section of the code. what am i missing? is there something in the city charter that prevents practicing professionals from helping write the code?

by the way, where was AIA Austin when all this was happening? i know, i hear you. “oh-uh” where is he going? “be politic”. “go easy”. but really – isn’t it time?? isn’t this town getting a little too big and a little too professional for this?!

well anyway – watch for more in this section soon.

by the way where is Mike Clark-Madison when you need him (

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