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Wednesday, November 27, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
Paxton files suit against planning commissioners
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is once again challenging the makeup of Austin’s Planning Commission.
In a suit filed Tuesday, Paxton asks to remove Fayez Kazi, James Shieh, Greg Anderson, Claire Hempel and/or Patrick Howard from the Planning Commission “because one or more of them unlawfully hold a position on the Commission.”
The suit is a retread of a 2018 suit from Paxton. That suit was resolved when the number of people on the original petition dropped below the one-third requirement. But with the appointment of Howard and Hempel, it was thought to be only a matter of time before the challenge would continue.
At issue is a provision in the City Charter that states two-thirds of the Planning Commission membership must be “lay members” who are “not directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.” The provision, which was added by voters in 1994, was seen as a way to mitigate the interests of developers on the commission.
However, opinions on who is and isn’t a “lay member” differ, and many have argued that very few people would be excluded from the broad category of land developer as currently defined in the charter.
The suit filed Tuesday targets Kazi, an engineer and the president of Civilitude LLC; Shieh, an architect; Anderson, who works for Habitat for Humanity; Hempel, a principal at Design Workshop; and Howard, the executive director and CEO of the Housing Authority of Travis County.
Paxton’s quo warranto suit – which can be read in its entirety below – was initially instigated by opponents of the city’s Land Development Code rewrite, which was then known as CodeNEXT. That rewrite is once again underway, with an initial City Council vote on the current draft scheduled for Dec. 9.
Video still courtesy of ATXN.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.