- Contact council members and tell them you want “robust, direct, and clear public notice” of any land-use changes
The Austin City Council has indicated that at its September 21 meeting it will invoke a Texas Local Government Code provision that allows it to modify the notice property owners will receive about proposed Land Development Code (LDC) amendments allowing three dwelling units on a single-family lot. (That proposal also reduces the minimum size of single-family lots to 2,500 square feet—so a 7,500-square-foot lot could be divided and have nine units.)
The other proposed amendment on the agenda would eliminate the dwelling unit occupancy limit for residential uses.
More than 170,000 households could be affected by these changes.
This is a departure from the way the city of Austin has notified residents of zoning ordinance changes, which followed state law found in Chapter 211.007 of the Texas Local Government Code. Here’s how it worked in the past:
(c) Before the 10th day before the hearing date, written notice of each public hearing before the zoning commission on a proposed change in a zoning classification shall be sent to each owner, as indicated by the most recently approved municipal tax roll, of real property within 200 feet of the property on which the change in classification is proposed.
Item 55 on the council’s September 21 agenda is a draft ordinance establishing the notice requirements for the joint public hearing and waiving City Code Sections 25-1-501 (Initiation of Amendment) and 25-1-502 (Amendment and Review).
This draft ordinance says, “The City Council adopts notice requirements described in Exhibit A as the required notice for the joint public hearing”, but Exhibit A is not included with the posted ordinance, so we don’t know what that alternative notice will be.
Under this Local Government Code provision, the council could waive the standard requirement to send written notice to property owners affected by the proposed code amendments. This would be unacceptable. Genuinely democratic cities don’t seek to exclude the public from participation in important policy decisions.
Friday afternoon, Mayor Kirk Watson sent out a message in which he said:
I want robust and clear public notice of any proposed LDC change. Not just the minimum that can be legally achieved, but more than the law requires. And we should consider alternative notice mechanisms, too, so we can maybe reach more folks.
That sounds good—but so far the council’s actions have not matched the mayor’s words. The public was given no notice of the council’s resolution directing staff to prepare code amendments allowing multifamily units on single-family lots and, therefore, no meaningful opportunity for a conversation about that policy before it was adopted.
Individual notice is essential. The city should not be rezoning our homes without direct notification. This isn’t just about the property on our street. It’s about our own homes. The council should not forget the powerful attachment rooted in “home.” It’s where people live their lives and create their families. It’s more consequential than zoning and economic growth.
Because of the profound negative consequences that the proposed zoning changes would have on existing communities, there must be adequate time between the notice and the hearings for conversations within the community and between the community and staff and council to ensure that the community has all of the information and adequate time to understand the proposed amendments and thoroughly communicate their opinions.
Contact the city council and let them know you want “robust, direct and clear public notice” of the type described by the mayor, with substantial time between the notice and the hearing and access to staff and council for additional information, to allow the kind of community conversations necessary for informed decision-making.