After a particularly protracted battle, Austin City Council members narrowly voted — again — to approve rezoning and waivers of environmental rules for a controversial Northwest Austin development site known as Champion tract.
The council first approved the measures 7-4 in November 2016, then faced and lost a challenge over how it had done so. A lawsuit from Bill Aleshire, an open government lawyer and former Travis County judge, along with a collection of neighborhood environmental activists, argued the council hadn’t said anything about possible environmental waivers in its public meeting posting before voting on them.
The redo of the approval passed 6-5 Thursday — via an amendment to a 1996 settlement agreement over the tract’s zoning — paves the way for a planned apartment complex there. Council Member Alison Alter, whose district includes the tract, strongly opposed it, along with Council Members Ann Kitchen, Ora Houston, Kathie Tovo and Leslie Pool.
Pool acknowledged threats of legal action from both sides of the issue: from neighbors if the item passed, and from developers if it didn’t.
“You know what? If I have to choose which side of a lawsuit, I’m going to choose to be on the side of the neighbors, fighting against the developers,” she said.
The site, near RM 2222 and Loop 360, has a complex history, beginning in the 1990s, when it was grandfathered into developer-friendly zoning. But that led to a lawsuit and a 1996 settlement with the city that allowed only general office construction there. A developer interested in putting apartments there approached the city in 2016, needing a change in use that would have triggered more restrictive environmental rules.
City leaders approved a middle ground, allowing the change with restrictions in between what was allowed in 1996 and what is permitted now.
Representatives of the developers have said the fact that the city didn’t post the item on the agenda in more detail in 2016 didn’t change the merits of the development and shouldn’t change the outcome.
Members of the group Aleshire represented, known as the Lake Austin Collective, turned out Thursday to reiterate their opposition and to reject that argument.
“Citizens deserve to be informed about the action you’re taking,” said Carol Lee, a representative of the collective. “That is not just a technicality.”
Alter apologized to neighbors that “this journey has been so bizarre.” She took aim at Mayor Steve Adler for accepting a motion to approve the move, saying it was her district and she indicated she wanted to make a motion to deny it.
Adler told her a motion to deny the item was the same as voting no on approving it.