Homeowners Sue to Block Code Changes Meant to Increase Affordability

The same group won a suit in 2020 over land use reforms

AMLI 5350 on Burnet Road is a VMU building, meaning in exchange for affordable units the city allowed it to be built taller. The lawsuit would block expansion of the VMU program. (Photo by John Anderson / Maggie Q. Thompson)

The city of Austin will once again argue in court that changes to the rules governing housing development in Austin – all of which were approved by a majority of City Council – should be allowed to become law.

On the other end of the argument are the 19 homeowner plaintiffs who successfully sued the city in 2020 to halt the impending adoption of a comprehensive revision to the city’s Land Development Code, which outlines what kind of buildings can be built throughout the city. They argued that the city did not properly notify property owners of the forthcoming changes. That notification is a requirement under state law that also gives property owners an opportunity to protest proposed zoning changes via petition.

In 2020, a Travis County District judge agreed with the plaintiffs, halting efforts to revise the LDC. The city appealed the district court ruling and lost then, too. Now the same group of plaintiffs is back, arguing that Council has continued to revise the LDC without properly notifying property owners.

The new legal challenge – which, like the first, has been funded by anti-growth coalition group Community Not Commodity – is aimed at undoing four broadly popular LDC reforms. Three were approved within the last year: a new tier in the Vertical Mixed Use density bonus program, modest reforms to compatibility regulations, and changes that will allow residential development in some commercially zoned areas.

Most curiously, though, the plaintiffs hope to strike down Affordability Unlocked, a city bonus program that was written to incentivize the development of affordable housing for people in need of supportive services. Shortly after AU was passed, for example, the program helped create housing for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The final hearing in the suit was scheduled for Monday, Aug. 28, but the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Doug Becker, was informed late Friday, Aug. 25 that the hearing would be postponed due an overfull court docket. It is not yet clear when the hearing will take place, but we’ll be there when it does.

Editor’s note Aug. 25, 4:50pm: This story has been updated to reflect that a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 28 has been postponed.

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