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City wins legal round in suit over animal shelter

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The City of Austin has won an important round in the lawsuit over moving the Town Lake Animal Center. PODER and a coalition of neighborhood groups sued the city, alleging violations of the City Charter and the Open Meetings Act. But District Judge Margaret Cooper dismissed those allegations and granted the city’s motions for summary judgment in the case.


That lawsuit had focused on issues of process, claiming the city did not hold appropriate public discussion on the decision to build a new shelter on city-owned property on Levander Loop in east Austin.  “The judge found that the city did not violate the Open Meetings Act and did not violate the city charter or any city ordinances in locating the animal shelter,” said Assistant City Attorney Anne Morgan.


The attorney representing the groups that filed the lawsuit said he was disappointed by the decision. “Her ruling supports the City’s position that the Austin Tomorrow Plan is ‘merely advisory’.  If the ruling stands, it means that the City can locate a new CIP project in a neighborhood without going through a process to amend the neighborhood plan,” said Bill Aleshire. “The site the City wants to use for the animal shelter is described in the Govalle-Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Plan as proposed for low-income housing or neighborhood recreational purposes.”


There could still be some of those neighborhood-desired uses on that site, along with the new animal shelter. “We will be working with the stakeholders both in terms of the design and development of the new shelter, but also working closely with the neighborhood to address their concerns about the potential for affordable housing and recreational amenities that we might be able to create at that site,” said Acting Assistant City Manager David Lurie. “We see this as a partnership with the community. That’s been our intent all along and we will continue with that.”


The design and construction of the new shelter could take approximately three years. “We’re very early in the process. We are just now working with an architectural firm to conduct a feasibility study and develop the initial design plans for a new shelter,” Lurie said. “We’re certainly pleased to have this matter resolved so we can move forward.” The Council has also supported keeping the Town Lake facility open as a pet adoption center.


PODER, the Govalle-Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Association, and the other groups involved in the lawsuit are still considering their legal options. Aleshire told In Fact Daily he plans to meet with his clients next week regarding the possibility of an appeal. Although the plaintiffs lost in District Court, the City of Austin is not seeking to recoup its legal fees in the case from those groups. Morgan, who is the city’s litigation chief, said it is city policy not to seek reimbursement for legal fees when there are allegations involving Open Meetings Act violations.

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