Earlier this month, several members of RVi’s Austin office volunteered alongside other ASLA members to test a portion of CodeNEXT, Austin’s proposed new development code. RVi’s Peter Dufrene led our group’s efforts along with Patrick Smith, Alan Mackey, Noah Halbach, and Robin Winter.

The focus of the test was CodeNEXT’s Functional Green, a requirement for urban developments that are zoned for 80% impervious cover. Rather than treating the landscape as an afterthought, this requirement asks developers to use the pervious portions of the site to create a landscape that provides ecological functions such as cleaning the air, creating/restoring habitat, providing drainage mitigation, or improving stormwater quality. Examples of functional landscape elements include preserved and/or new trees, green roofs, rain gardens, porous or suspended pavement, vegetated walls, cisterns, non-potable water irrigation, and pollinator resources. Each functional landscape element has an associated multiplier, which is used in a calculation to determine a total score.

During the exercise, each team evaluated a different existing project in Austin to determine what modifications would be necessary to bring the project into compliance with Functional Green, and at what cost. RVi’s team was assigned a multi-family project in north central Austin and produced two concepts for consideration. The first concept achieved compliance without altering the site plan, adding functional green elements at a cost of more than $500,000.The second concept altered the site plan by reducing parking to a level still acceptable within the constraints of CodeNEXT, reconfiguring the parking and sedimentation pond in order to preserve existing mature trees, as well as adding functional green elements. The team estimated this approach to be less than $500,000, not including the savings that would likely be realized from reducing the parking footprint. This exercise suggests that involving the landscape architect early on in the project will make achieving the Functional Green requirement much more cost effective for the developer.

Special thanks to ASLA Central Texas for the opportunity to participate in the testing of CodeNEXT, to AIA Austin for hosting the event, and to Melissa Henao-Robledo of Landscape Forms for sharing her event photos with us!