Neighbors sue city of Austin over proposed Grove project

Nearly two dozen opponents of The Grove at Shoal Creek, a development planned in central Austin, have filed a lawsuit alleging that the city of Austin has rejected their “valid petition” protesting the proposed zoning for the site.

The lawsuit was filed in state district court on Tuesday by 20 homeowners who live near the 75-acre site — bordering Bull Creek Road and West 45th Street — where developer ARG Bull Creek LTD plans to build a $500 million mixed-use project.

Under state law, if 20 percent of property owners within 200 feet of a proposed zoning change file a protest petition with the city, a three-fourths vote of the City Council is required to approve the proposed zoning. At issue is whether the Grove’s zoning would have to be approved by that supermajority vote, or whether it is exempt from the state law and can be approved by a simple majority vote, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says the city verified that a protest petition submitted by surrounding neighbors met the legal requirement, with 28.68 percent of landowners within 200 feet signing on. However, the lawsuit contends that the city is rejecting the petition, claiming the city code and a 1972 court case voids those rules when the tract has never been zoned before by the city — as is the case with The Grove land, which previously was state-owned property.

“We think the city is misinterpreting that old court case” Grayson Cox, the lead plaintiff among the 20 people who filed the lawsuit, said in a written statement. “We are asking the district court for a declaratory judgment telling us whether our interpretation or the city’s interpretation is the right one.”

Jeffery Hart, the attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment beyond the lawsuit.

Bryce Bencivengo, a city spokesman, said in a written statement that the city “has not been served but we are aware of the lawsuit and the underlying legal issues raised by the neighborhood. We are prepared to defend the city.”

ARG said in a written statement that the lawsuit is without merit.

“ARG Bull Creek Ltd. believes this lawsuit, which was filed by only a handful of neighbors, is misguided and continues to perpetuate false information. The plaintiffs almost all live adjacent to the property and continue to use it as their recreational space.”

In addition, ARG said that “state law is clear and the city of Austin has consistently and correctly interpreted and implemented state law with respect to the process of zoning our property.”

The Grove’s proposed zoning is currently under review by various city departments. The project’s developer beat out five other competitors for the land in late 2014, bidding $46.76 million.

Opponents contend The Grove will harm surrounding neighborhoods, including by generating more than 19,000 additional vehicle trips a day in an already congested area. The developer, however, is proposing to pay for road improvements that it said will reduce wait times and improve traffic flow.

The city’s rejection of the petition continues a pattern of unfair treatment surrounding the city’s review of The Grove’s zoning application, the lawsuit said.

Sheri Gallo, an Austin City Council member whose district includes the proposed project, said in an email that she preferred not to comment on the lawsuit.

“However, my office will continue to meet with neighbors and listen to all questions, concerns and feedback regarding this proposed community,” Gallo wrote. “I look forward to city staff completing their thorough review process of The Grove’s proposal.”

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