Council hears from public on CodeNEXT as lawsuit looms

The number of speakers letting their voices be heard on CodeNEXT wasn't quite as numerous as expected on Tuesday.  

But it's just the first public hearing on the big code re-write, the second one is this Saturday which may draw a bigger crowd.

"It unfortunately would result in a less affordable, less sustainable, more sprawling, less livable and connected, less environmentally-sound and more segregated Austin," Patrick Rose with the Real Estate Council of Austin told Council during Tuesday’s special-called meeting.

Attorney Fred Lewis is the head of "Community Not Commodity."  The group is hoping council will just start over on CodeNEXT.

"We think the current process and product are broken and that Code Next Draft 3 is one of the worst drafted codes in the United States," Lewis said.

For those wondering: "Hey...what is CodeNEXT again?"  

"The land development code -- one small piece of it is zoning and what you can build where.  90% of it is other things," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

"Everything from zoning to water quality to affordable housing to billboards to transportation.  Everything that involves the use of land and development in Austin therefore it affects everything and everybody," Lewis said.

Adler and Lewis are on opposite sides of a petition to put CodeNEXT on the November ballot.  Lewis's group was hoping to give Austin voters an opportunity to say yay or nay to it.

"We got 31,000 signatures, it was validated by the clerk," Lewis said. 

But last week, in a decision that divided council members, the majority of council voted not to put it on the ballot.  The Mayor says attorneys informed them the law doesn't allow something like CodeNEXT to go on a ballot.

"We asked for outside counsel to took a look at it and they agreed, I went to the dean of the law school and asked them if that was the right opinion," Adler said.

"Under the law, if you get the required number of signatures for a petition that council is required to put it on a ballot, absent extraordinary circumstances.  The council refused to put it on the ballot.  So we're going to have to sue the city.  So the citizens are going to have to pay the city's attorney’s fees for us to allow them to have the right to vote," Lewis said.  

Lewis says that lawsuit is coming very soon.  They're hoping a court will order council to put CodeNEXT on the ballot.  Adler says that's why council addressed the petition so early in the process.

"In fact we took the action to set it provisionally on the ballot in November should a court say that something else should be happening," Adler said.  

Lewis disagrees with the Mayor's wording about CodeNEXT being "provisionally" put on the ballot.  Lewis says it's either on the ballot or it's not.

Adler says after the second public hearing this weekend, he really wants council to spend the month of June finding consensus on CodeNEXT.  They don't want to vote on it before it's ready.