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City sued over CodeNEXT sign information

Monday, June 4, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Billboard company owner Billy Reagan, who helped fund the petition drive to put the new Land Development Code on the November ballot, has sued the city. His suit is not to be confused with the lawsuit filed last week to attempt to force the city to put CodeNEXT on the ballot.

In his suit, Reagan says the city is violating the Texas Public Information Act by refusing to divulge information about how it arrived at the current CodeNEXT section on billboards.

Reagan is the owner of Reagan Signs, also known as Reagan Outdoor Advertising. Attorney Bill Aleshire is representing Reagan in seeking records to show how the city arrived at the billboard rules proposed in the third draft of CodeNEXT.

According to Aleshire, in the first two drafts of CodeNEXT, all the current rules were simply transferred into the new code. However, in the third draft, Aleshire told the Austin Monitor, “they’ve taken out the appeal to the Board of Adjustment that was there before.”

And more importantly, Aleshire said, “they’ve taken out the ability to transfer the location of a billboard. In other words, you have a billboard in one location and under the current rules and regulations you can transfer that to a different location. So it doesn’t increase the supply of billboards, but it does allow you to change the location.”

In an email on the topic, Aleshire said: “The CodeNEXT chapter on sign regulations demonstrates that, contrary to city politicians’ claims, CodeNEXT is not being developed to implement Imagine Austin (the city’s comprehensive plan), direction from Council, and citizen input in the CodeNEXT process.”

“The sign regulations did not come from any of those sources, and the city is fighting to keep public records about the origins of those regulations from being publicly disclosed. That is why we filed this lawsuit for true transparency in the CodeNEXT process,” he concluded.

Even members of the Board of Adjustment have expressed befuddlement over the change in the rules and how that came about. As noted in the May 21 Reporter’s Notebook, Board Member Melissa Hawthorne said she was unable to figure out what was being proposed and where those new rules came from.

According to the lawsuit, the city resisted providing the information to Reagan after he made a public information request on March 13. The city has asked the Texas attorney general to approve that refusal by claiming that the city’s consultants were hired to advise the city on the rewrite and that they “serve as client representatives. Thus, at least for the signs portion of CodeNEXT, the city refuses to let the public know what these consultants suggested or why. The city did not let the Attorney General see all of the records the city withheld; instead the city showed the Attorney General only what the city claimed is a ‘representative sample’ of what they refused to disclose to Billy Reagan,” the lawsuit says.

An attempt to reach a city spokesperson on Sunday was unsuccessful. However, the city rarely comments on pending litigation.

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