A coalition of anti-CodeNext advocates filed a petition Thursday that would put CodeNext on the ballot.
A group including representatives from the Austin Neighborhoods Council, the local NAACP and the anti-CodeNext nonprofit, Community Not Commodity, delivered several boxes to the Austin City Clerk’s office containing signatures from more than 32,000 residents gathered over the past six months.
About 20,000 signatures are needed to trigger an election.
The clerk’s office has no deadline to certify the petition. However, a city spokesman said it would be reviewed in a speedy manner. Once certified, the Austin City Council would decide whether the proposed ordinance will be put on the ballot.
While the petition effort’s organizers’ stated intention is to place CodeNext on the ballot, the proposed referendum would ask Austin voters whether all comprehensive changes to the city’s land development code should be put to a vote.
“The reason I believe 32,000 people signed the petition is that CodeNext affects everyone’s life,” said Fred Lewis, an Austin attorney behind one of the political action committees that pushed for signatures. “It affects ever one’s property, whether they own a home or they rent. And frankly there have been some controversial aspects about CodeNext and how it was handled.”
CodeNext is the city’s answer to the 2012 Imagine Austin comprehensive plan by revising what type of development can go where. The effort aims to address many of Austin’s problems, including a lack of low-income housing, gentrification and traffic congestion.
Opponents of CodeNext believe it will destroy neighborhood character by encouraging redevelopment and the demolitions of homes. Proponents believe that CodeNext will make housing cheaper by making it easier to build in the city.
Following a press conference at City Hall, Mayor Steve Adler told a group of reporters that Austin City Council members would work on behalf their constituents to approve a code that the public would approve.
“I am concerned about the petition because I think it disenfranchises large parts of the community. … We sought to make sure that all parts of our community — through their council members — have a voice in rewriting the land development code,” Adler said.
The petition could put the City Council in a thorny position.
The city of Austin’s legal team drafted a memo in February that told the City Council the petition is invalid and that placing it on the ballot could be illegal. An outside attorney has advised the city that the petition is flawed because it outlines an ordinance that would override conflicting portions of the Austin City Charter. Ordinances cannot trump the charter.
“While city leadership respects the voices of those who have signed the petition, this has been an exhaustive process with unprecedented public involvement,” an emailed statement from the city said. “The City Charter and state law determine Council’s role in making amendments to the zoning code, and this petition may be inconsistent with those legal standards.”
Lewis said that that argument is irrelevant. Any legal challenge to the petition would only be proper after voters approved the ordinance that would put CodeNext on the ballot.
And, if the council does not put the referendum on the ballot, Lewis said he would sue.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the amount of time the city has to certify the petition.