Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to remove eight of the 13 members of Austin’s Planning Commission. The commission is responsible for making and amending a master city plan, making recommendations to the City Council on proposed zoning changes and weighing in on land use decisions.
Paxton’s office got approval today from a state district court in Travis County to take legal action to remove the eight members. His office cites a rule in the city charter that states a minimum of two-thirds of the commission “shall be lay members and not directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.”
The members his office says should not be on the commission are Karen McGraw, Trinity White, Fayez Kazi, James Shieh, James Schissler, Patricia Seeger, Greg Anderson and Tom Nuckols. Paxton's office says the group is made up of "four architects, two land use engineers, the director of operations for a housing nonprofit, and a lawyer with Travis County's attorney's office who specializes in real estate law."
Austin lawyer Fred Lewis filed a complaint last year with Travis County, flagging what he saw as the commission's illegal makeup and calling for an investigation. In an emailed statement today, he thanked the Attorney General’s Office for taking action.
"The illegal composition of the Planning Commission undermines the validity of its work over the last 3 years, whether on individual rezoning of specific properties or CodeNEXT,” Lewis wrote. “Council should have fixed the illegal composition 3 years [ago], when brought to their attention, but has refused."
The city said it had received the action and was reviewing the case.
"The City will provide legal representation to these volunteers who dedicate a significant amount of their time to serving the City,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Planning Commissioner Greg Anderson, the director of community affairs for Austin Habitat for Humanity, says his work for the nonprofit is being equated with working for a for-profit developer.
"I work for Austin Habitat for the same reason I'm on the Planning Commission," he said, "which is that I believe in the power of sustainable healthy communities. My work here is solely my own to the point that I recuse myself any time there is an Austin Habitat item up for consideration."
Anderson says it's up to the City Council to determine which members of the community are the best fit to serve on the commission.
"And I think City Council has done a great job putting a good group of people up there to do just that for the city of Austin," he said.