AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you got a public notice in the mail from the City of Austin warning of proposed Land Development Code changes, you’re one of more than 725,000 people.

Austin City Council is working to better notify Austinites of zoning changes that may impact them after the City ended up in court over just that. The notices are going to property owners, utility customers and people listed in the City’s Community Registry, according to the City of Austin Planning Department.

“We’re working to provide the public ample notice about upcoming hearings and Council action, something that was lacking the last time. The process changes are the direct result of public feedback during CodeNext. We’ve heard you,” Mayor Kirk Watson said in his newsletter.

The notices going out now notify of three proposed changes:

  • Allowing up to three housing units, including tiny homes and RVs, on a single-family zoned property
  • Revising regulations that apply to a property with two housing units
  • Removing restrictions on the number of unrelated adults living in a house

To sum that up, the City is looking at allowing different types of units on a property, more units on a property, and more people in a unit.

“What is allowed to happen on someone’s lot is instrumental in how that home ultimately is priced. If you can have one very expensive home, then very few people can access that home. But if you have more, smaller, naturally affordable homes then we are allowing people to live throughout our wonderful neighborhoods,” Council Member Ryan Alter said.

The notices cost the city roughly $315,000 to send out, according to the City of Austin Planning Department.

Public hearings on the changes will happen at Austin City Hall on the following days:

  • Thursday, October 26 at 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, November 14 at 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 7 at 10 a.m.

How we got here

A group of homeowners has sued the city twice over its zoning notification process, once successfully in 2020. The other lawsuit is still in the hands of a judge.

The crux of their claim is that the city has failed to notify residents of Land Development Code changes that might impact them. Those changes to the LDC have largely been made to incentivize the creation of more affordable housing.

Doug Becker, the attorney representing the homeowners, told a judge in September that the argument is “not about the wisdom of the policies,” but about the process for putting them in place.

In 2020, a judge ruled in favor of Becker and his clients and overturned a complete overhaul of the City’s Land Development Code, which has widely been called CodeNext. The group’s most recent lawsuit claims patchwork changes the City Council has made to the Land Development Code since have violated the same rules.

“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,” Becker said.

The city is fighting the later case in court. Still, City Council members and mayor said they wanted more transparency in the Land Development Code process, initiating changes.

“There will be other proposals coming in probably the first half of 2024, and we’ll go through this public notification and engagement process again,” Watson said.