Group asks district attorney to investigate Planning Commission

4:31 p.m Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 Local
Nick Wagner
Residents listen to a panel of speakers at a CodeNext meeting in May at Austin City Hall. The city’s Planning Commission, which would make a recommendation on the new development rules, is facing scrutiny over the number of board members with development-related jobs.

A group of Austin residents, including the president of the local NAACP chapter, filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s office Monday calling for an investigation of a city commission charged with reviewing CodeNext.

The complaint alleges that the composition of Austin’s Planning Commission violates the Austin City Charter and calls on the district attorney to invalidate its leadership — which could derail efforts to have CodeNext before the City Council for an April vote.

The complaint states that too many of the commission’s board members are connected to real estate and development. In a provision that voters approved in 1994, the city charter states that at least two-thirds of the Planning Commission’s 13 members must be “lay members not directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.” However, the complaint said that seven members of the commission — more than half — are connected to real estate and development.

“Their recommendations and work product have more often than not reflected the interests and views of the city’s real estate industry, rather than the general public,” the complaint says. “They have potential conflicts of interest between their personal financial interests and their public service on the commission, contrary to the Charter and public will.”

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told the Statesman she received the complaint and would have her office review it.

Fred Lewis, a local attorney who leads Community Not Commodity, wrote the complaint. Lewis is also the head of a political action committee pushing a petition to put CodeNext on the March ballot so voters can decide its fate.

Also signing on to the complaint are local NAACP President Nelson Linder, Save Our Springs Alliance Director Bill Bunch and attorney Bill Aleshire, among others.

City officials hope to address Austin’s problems with affordability, gentrification and traffic through this overhaul of the land development code, which spells out what kinds of things can be built in various areas. Among other things, CodeNext aims to increase Austin’s housing supply by encouraging density along major roads and in the central city. Some affordability advocates have embraced that concept, while some residents worry that it could disrupt established neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission is the sole board required to vote on CodeNext before sending its recommendation to the City Council, which will review the draft code for a scheduled approval in April.

If the commission is unable to meet due to a court order or lack of a quorum, it could delay the City Council’s vote. However, it is possible that the City Council could move forward without action from the commission, the city has said.

The Planning Commission is set to meet Wednesday. CodeNext is one of the items on its agenda.

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