Judge says CodeNEXT must be on November ballot

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Even though the Austin City Council decided to not put CodeNEXT on the November ballot, a Travis County judge says how the city decides its land use code must be left up to voters.

“It affects everybody and every property in the City of Austin,” said Fred Lewis, president of Save Our City Austin. He was involved in writing a petition that was signed by 31,000 people who opposed CodeNEXT.

“What they’ll vote on this November is whether they want to have the right to vote,” explained Lewis. By having the petition on the ballot, Austin voters would decide whether or not people should have a say in how the city approves future land development codes.  

“The public wants to vote,” Lewis said. “They want to have their views respected.”

In council’s vote in May, the Austin City Council cited state law which prohibits putting changes to the land use code to a public vote. Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Ann Kitchen proposed another course of action: leaving it up to future legal battles to decide whether CodeNEXT goes to a vote, which is what happened. 

“The city will still proceed with its work under the existing land development code that we have,” said Mayor Adler Monday night. “We have a lot of displacement of people and flooding problems. We have a lot of homes that are being torn down. So I would suspect that the city should still be looking at how we improve our land development code.”

Adler said the council will discuss the wording of the ballot question next month. 

The measure will follow the same process other ballot questions go through. 

“I’m disappointed to see that,” said Kevin McLaughlin, a board member of AURA. 

He told KXAN making tough decisions like changing the city’s zoning rules should be left up to elected officials.

“I have a job, and I don’t have time to read 1,500 pages of CodeNEXT to see whether or not I should support it,” he said. “That’s why we vote for city councilors to make these hard choices for us. Not because we’re incapable, but because that is the job of a city councilor.”

The mayor says he’s hopeful about the future of the city’s land use code.

“I am hopeful that we’ll be able to come up with a consensus plan,” Adler said. “We all love this city. We have a lot of smart people in this city. So yes I do believe that ultimately that we’re going to be able to come up with something that works for the community.”

A city spokesperson said in a statement Monday evening, “We acknowledge the Judge’s ruling requiring the city to place the ordinance on the ballot. While we respect the Judge’s decision, it leaves unresolved questions about whether zoning is an appropriate subject for election.” 

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