AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of homeowners that has successfully sued the City of Austin over its zoning notification process was back in front of a judge Tuesday arguing the City still isn’t following the rules.
The group’s lawsuit claims the City of Austin neglected to follow a ruling made in 2020 — which overturned an overhaul of the city’s Land Development Code (LDC) — when city council pushed through several additional LDC changes aimed at affordability over the past few years.
“The heart of the prior injunction was that when the city proposes changes to the possible use of land by Austin citizens who own land it must give notice to those landowners and provide an opportunity to protest. That’s what they were ordered to do in the first case, upheld on appeal and what they have failed to do in this case,” Doug Becker, the attorney representing the homeowners, said.
The crux of the claim is that the City of Austin failed to notify residents properly of those overarching zoning changes. Becker told a judge the argument is “not about the wisdom of the policies,” but about the process for putting them in place.
“The City appreciates the Court’s careful consideration of the issues raised in the Motion to Enforce and we are confident that the City complied with state law, including the judgment when it approved the four ordinances,” a City of Austin spokesperson said.
The lawsuit filed earlier this year targets these four ordinances:
- Vertical Mixed-Use II (VMU2)
- Residential in Commercial Property
- Compatibility standards
- Affordability Unlocked
All of the programs have an affordability element tied to them, offering incentives for more affordable units to be built.
The lawsuit was the subject of a protest last month, which was attended by several current city council members and Congressman Greg Casar, a former member.
“My position is, they should be protesting. But they shouldn’t be protesting at the courthouse they should be protesting down at City Hall because the City is the one who did this wrong and therefore should get the blame for our having to file this lawsuit,” said Becker.
Judge Jessica Mangram will issue a ruling. There is no deadline for that decision.
Changes to the process
Austin City Council has said it will continue to make changes to its LDC to encourage more affordable housing. Mayor Kirk Watson is working to make the notification process more sound. It was one of the items taken up by Austin City Council last week.
“As we consider notice going forward on any of these items that make these changes that we are going to at least my hope is that we seek robust, complete notice in a way where people feel like we have a credible process, they’re not being left out,” Watson said in work session Tuesday.
Austin City Council members unanimously approved an item tied to the LDC notification process with Alter abstaining last week.
“Recent comments that Mayor Watson has made and that a couple of the city council members have made publicly give me some hope,” Becker said when asked about the changes. “There [are] a few city council members now who were not on council when the prior case was litigated. I guess I have hope that all of them will recognize the law and follow the law.”