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Court hears Austin's land development code lawsuit Wednesday

The City has been attempting to rewrite the land development code for nearly a decade.

AUSTIN, Texas — For years, the City of Austin and property owners have been battling over changing the City's land development code. On Wednesday, a Texas court will hear both sides.

The City has been attempting to rewrite the land development code for nearly a decade. CodeNEXT, a years-long rewrite process, hit a dead-end in 2018 but was followed by a new version in 2019. That version was one vote away from becoming a reality in March 2020, but a Travis County district judge voided the Austin City Council's two previous votes. The judge ruled the City had violated the local government code by not notifying citizens of potential zoning changes.

In April 2020, the council voted to appeal that decision – something some council members weren't happy about, with a few saying it was an "ill-timed expenditure of resources amid our current [COVID-19] crisis." 

Now oral arguments in the City's appeal were held virtually on Wednesday before a panel of justices of the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston.

WATCH: Austin Mayor Steve Adler talks homeless camping, evictions, housing (June 8)

The ongoing effort to rewrite the land development code has been met with controversy over its potential effects on development, traffic, displacement and more. But those who support the endeavor, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, say that a code rewrite could help increase the housing supply in the city.

The lawsuit filed by 19 local property owners in December 2019 focused on whether Austin residents could object to the proposed code change before its final approval. The City argued they could not, but the plaintiffs said the City's claim had no legal foundation and that a code revision carries the same requirements as an individual zoning case.

According to the lawsuit, Texas law requires the City to notify property owners who will be affected by the changes and also requires the City to honor the protest rights of property owners. The City said those state zoning rules don't apply to a sweeping code update and that notifying everyone affected would be a pricey process. A judge ruled against the City's arguments, prompting the appeal that moves forward Wednesday.

Mayor Adler and Council Member Alison Alter on Wednesday also issued an amendment to the city's land development code that could increase housing supply and affordability in Austin.

“From our discussions as a council and among our community, it’s clear that housing affordability and housing supply are among our city’s greatest present challenges,” said Mayor Adler. “This change to our code would allow more residential development in more places.”

The proposed code amendment would allow residential uses in commercial zones associated with corresponding affordability requirements. This would allow residential uses in zoning districts CS, CS-1, GR, LR, GO and LO, which currently only allow commercial uses.

“This amendment reflects a concept that we have all discussed. Importantly, we think it represents a chance to facilitate a material number of additional housing units while achieving broad agreement,” added Alter. “This reflects the capacity increase numbers we saw during our prior work on the land development code.”

The council will take up this amendment during the Nov. 30 council work session.

Austin's land development code has not been updated since the 1980s.

You can find more of KVUE's coverage of the land development code rewrite process below: 

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