CodeNEXT heads to court

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin is being taken to court Monday morning after city council voted down a petition ordinance in May that would have placed CodeNEXT on the November ballot.

Earlier this year, 31,000 people in Austin signed a petition that was certified by city staff, saying they want CodeNEXT to go up for a vote. CodeNEXT is the massive rewrite of the land development code that has the potential to impact everything from traffic to how someone builds onto their house.

In May, Council Member Ora Houston put forth a resolution to city council asking the city manager to draft language for CodeNEXT to be placed on the ballot. However, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Ann Kitchen said state law prohibits the city from putting changes to the land use code up to a public vote. The council decided in a 6 to 4 vote not to put it on the ballot.

“The petition doesn’t belong on the ballot because the subject matter—zoning—is not proper for initiative and referendum,” said Jane Webre, legal counsel for the city. “Texas courts have held since 1925 that certain subjects have been ‘withdrawn from the field.’ That’s the phrase the courts use. And zoning is one of those subjects.”

Those who started the petition sued the city and Monday they take their argument before a district judge.

“We are going to argue that the council has a ministerial duty to put a certified petition on the ballot, that it is not the council’s role to interfere with the people’s right to vote,” says Fred Lewis, an attorney suing the city.

Adler said in May the only way council could put CodeNEXTon the ballot is if a court found the city is legally required to do so. 

The city has hired outside counsel from Scott, Douglass, and McConnico to argue its case, and they are expected to cite state law as the reason not to add it to the November ballot.

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