Austin City Council members early this morning did not accept the changes asked for in a citizen-led petition that would have required all comprehensive zoning changes, including CodeNEXT, be put to a public vote. Now council must decide before Aug. 20 whether to put the petition on a November ballot.
The vote was 4-6, with council members Alison Alter, Ora Houston, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo voting in favor.
“It’s very clear that from the broad community discussion that we’ve been having that there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with how we’re managing growth and planning in Austin,” Alter said. “I do know the facts: that we have over 30,000 people who signed this petition who want to be able to vote on CodeNEXT and that we’ve had hundreds of people engage with trying to understand the details.”
The petition was organized by two anti-CodeNEXT political action committees.
Once a petition is validated by the city clerk, it goes to council, and members have two options: either accept the changes it proposes to city law outright or ask the public to weigh-in during the next election. The same process happened when Uber- and Lyft-backed political action committees submitted a petition over ride-hailing rules in early 2016.
But this time around, there’s a legal question hanging over the petition: Can zoning go on a ballot? C. Robert Heath, a private lawyer advising the city, says no. Heath said Texas courts have ruled that cities aren't "required or authorized to call an election" on zoning issues, according to a February memo.
Fred Lewis, a local lawyer behind the petition, has said he will sue the city if council members don't put it on the ballot.