We hope you, your family, and your neighbors are staying safe and healthy in these turbulent times. Right now, nothing is more important than the well-being of our community and the frontline health workers who protect it.
The rewrite of Austin’s land development code is one of many local issues eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but over the past few weeks hundreds of residents have found the time to send us questions about the matter. Many of them filed official protests against the City of Austin’s controversial rezoning plan, which threatens to worsen our community’s affordability and displacement crises. They want to know how the court decision against that plan and City Hall’s appeal of the judgment affects them. Others want to know if it’s too late to file new protests.
Before answering their questions, let’s run through a quick timeline showing how we got to this point:
Community Not Commodity launches FileYourProtest.com so Austinites would have an easy way to file official protests against City Hall’s rezoning plan. According to Section 211 of the Texas Local Government Code, local officials are prohibited from rezoning any property that is the subject of a protest unless they have the support of a supermajority of the Austin City Council (nine of 11 votes).
November 2019 – March 2020
Mayor Steve Adler and his allies on the city council repeatedly claim that state law doesn’t apply to the rezoning plan and that city authorities won’t recognize protests filed in response to it. More than 17,000 Austinites file them anyway.
March 18, 2020
Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer rules that city officials are breaking the law by denying Austinites the right to protest the rezoning plan. She orders local officials to honor all protests and strikes down the preliminary votes the city council had taken on the plan.
April 9, 2020
Mayor Adler and a majority of the council members vote to appeal Judge Soifer’s order to Austin’s Third Court of Appeals. Their decision abandons the certainty of a land code built on consensus and invites the uncertainty of a long, costly, and unnecessary court battle. Council Members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, and Kathie Tovo vote against the measure and release a statement calling it “an ill-timed expenditure of resources amid our current crisis.”
It could be a year or more before the appeals court decides the case. Here’s where we stand in the meantime:
Protests That Have Already Been Filed Remain Valid
If the City of Austin decides to move forward with the rezoning plan while Judge Soifer’s decision is on appeal, property owners who properly filed protests using FileYourProtest.com or these paper forms should be protected. No property that is the subject of a protest may be rezoned without support from a supermajority of the city council, and that is unlikely to happen as long as Council Members Alter, Kitchen, Pool, and Tovo are on the dais. Each of them has consistently voted against moving forward with the current plan.
Austin Residents Should Continue Filing Protests
More than 17,000 Austinites have filed protests to date, but we believe many more are sitting on the sidelines because they were misled by city authorities. If you’re one of them, now is your chance to visit FileYourProtest.com and protect your residential and commercial property. Protests may be filed up to one week before the city council takes its final vote on the plan.
Getting Your Neighbors Involved Is Important
By working together, neighbors can protect nearby properties that none of them own, such as a commercial development abutting their homes. When the owners of at least 20 percent of the properties within 200 feet of the commercial development file protests, then the entire area is protected, even if the development’s owner supports the rezoning plan. The same holds true for homeowners who do not file protests: If the owners of at least 20 percent of the surrounding properties within 200 feet file protests, then City Hall cannot rezone any of the properties without support from nine of the city council’s 11 members.
The More Protests We File, the Stronger Our Message to City Hall Will Be
As Council Members Alter, Kitchen, Pool, and Tovo made clear, now is the time for Austinites to come together and focus all of their resources on the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the other members of the city council have chosen to deepen the divide caused by the next CodeNEXT. We must protect our community—so if you’ve already filed a protest, please forward this post to your friends and neighbors and ask them to do the same. Let’s send the mayor and his allies a message! It’s not okay for them to ignore our property rights, and it’s not okay for them to misinform the public. They must listen to our voices and heed our concerns.
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!