Around midnight last Thursday, the Austin City Council held a “public” hearing on what appeared to be a routine, limited Vertical Mixed Use (VMU) zoning amendment that had consensus support. But Mayor Steve Adler, the mayor pro tem, and eight other council members ambushed Austinites, passing last-minute, often unwritten amendments that have profound consequences and are likely to be very unpopular.
Today, six days after the hearing, we still don’t have the actual language of what was passed. That’s because the amendments appear to prioritize the profits of land developers, not the needs of everyday Austinites.
Based on the video that accompanied Thursday night’s hearing, the newly amended VMU ordinance will provide for the following:
No notice to affected property owners. It intentionally allows the City of Austin to avoid providing residents with notice of the VMU zoning changes that allow taller, mixed-use buildings closer to their properties. We believe this amendment violates state law based on the recent Acuña appellate decision against the city. It certainly violates any notions of fairness, due process, and respect for residents’ property rights.
No protest rights. It seeks to allow municipal staff to make VMU zoning decisions, rather than elected officials. This robs local residents of their state-mandated protest rights and protects council members from the voters who put them in office. This amendment is unfair, anti-democratic, and appears to be illegal.
Anti-affordability loopholes. The city council’s purported reason for the original VMU amendment was to lower the cost of housing by raising the number of affordable units developers had to provide in VMU buildings. This policy was always dubious: VMU buildings along corridors serve the well-heeled rather than those in need, and the city’s “incentive” programs have produced little affordable housing in the past (and are unlikely to do so in the future because of housing economics). Thursday’s midnight amendments weaken the policy even further, giving developers loopholes to minimize the number of affordable units. In short, the new ordinance prioritizes developers’ profits, not affordability.
None of this bodes well for September, when the city council will consider deregulating our community’s compatibility standards and making other major changes to Austin’s zoning code. If Thursday night is any indicator, each of those votes could be another big giveaway to developers.
If you want to protect your home, business, and neighborhood, it’s important to stay engaged this summer. Follow us on Facebook and share our emails with your friends and neighbors. Stay in touch with the city council and demand that they serve you, not special interests.
Start today by contacting the mayor and your representative on the city council. Let them know Thursday’s “midnight special” is anti-democratic, anti-Austin, and will likely lead to litigation that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for—and please send your gratitude to Kathie Tovo, who was the sole council member who opposed the measures! Check this map if you aren’t sure which council member represents you.
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!
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