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CodeNEXT, Austin land development code rewrite, effectively over after appeals court ruling

The Wednesday ruling sides with a group of residents who took issue with Austin City Council's vote to amend land code rules in the city.

AUSTIN, Texas — CodeNEXT, the City of Austin's effort to overhaul its land development code, is essentially dead.

A ruling from the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston on Wednesday sides with a group of residents who took issue with Austin City Council's vote to amend land code rules in the city. 

In early 2020, KVUE reported that Austin City Council members gave the second round of approval to the rewrite of the land development code. Council members were set to approve the code a third time before the Land Development Code went into effect, and residents had sued the City in 2019 just one day after the council first took a vote.

The lawsuit filed by 19 local property owners in December 2019 focused on the question of whether Austin residents could object to the proposed code change before its final approval. According to the lawsuit, Texas law requires the City to notify property owners who will be affected by the changes and also requires the City to honor the protest rights of property owners. The City said those state zoning rules don't apply to a sweeping code update and that notifying everyone affected would be a pricey process.

The updated land development code would have essentially dictated what is built and where in the city. It would have changed the face of the city for decades to come.

Mary Ingle, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in 2018 the City proposed changes to Duval Street, the street she lives on. The Cty was hoping to raise the building height limit from 30 feet to 90 feet.

"You wouldn't see the sun," said Ingle.

What upset her the most, she wasn't allowed to protest the rewrite. 

"The city is trying to provide changes and zoning to provide for much higher density within certain areas of the city," Douglas Becker, an attorney who represents the 19 property owners. "The lawsuit doesn't challenge that as a goal. The lawsuit challenges the means by which the city is trying to accomplish that goal."

A Travis County district judge voided the councilmembers' two rounds of votes and ruled the City of Austin had violated the local government code by not notifying citizens of potential zoning changes. Amid the pandemic, the City of Austin appealed that ruling.

Now, the appeals court in Houston has backed the Travis County judge's initial ruling.

According to the appeals court ruling issued on March 17, "Because the LDC Revision proposes changes in zoning districts, boundaries, regulations, and classifications, we conclude that the statute's written-notice and protest provisions apply."

"In matters of statutory construction, we are called upon to say what the law is, not what it should be, and the statute as written does not distinguish between revisions of varying degrees," the ruling said.

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