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The “CodeNEXT” citizen petition initiative will be on the ballot this November as Proposition J. If Austin voters approve Proposition J, then before CodeNEXT (or other comprehensive revisions of the land development code) can become law, there will be a waiting period and voter approval requirement. The initiative states “there shall be both a waiting period and voter approval by election before CodeNEXT (or any subsequent comprehensive revisions of the City’s land development laws) is legally effective.” A “yes” vote on Proposition J means voters will have to approve CodeNEXT or the next CodeNEXT; a “no” vote means council may enact a comprehensive land code revision without voter approval, as is currently the law.

Proposition J’s waiting period and voter approval requirements apply only to “comprehensive revisions of the land development laws.” Comprehensive revisions are a legal term of art: it means only a once in a generation complete overhaul of the City’s land development laws such as in 1985 and proposed with CodeNEXT. (Mixon, Texas Municipal Zoning Law, 7.002). Proposition J does not require a waiting period or voter approval for any specific development, any incremental changes in law, or the enactment of new programs (such as flooding mitigation or affordable housing) short of a complete revision of the land development laws.

Proposition J’s waiting period, according to the initiative, “is to ensure voters can learn about the [council’s] proposed comprehensive revisions and elect council members with sufficient time to amend or reject the prior council’s comprehensive revisions.” The waiting period runs from the time the Council passes the next CodeNEXT “until June 1st following the next regularly scheduled Council elections.” We expect the waiting period will last a year or less. This is likely because the City Manager has been directed to bring back a new process no earlier than January 2019, and the staff will have to generate a new proposal that then will be vetted by multiple Commissions and revised by the Council. This likely will take until summer of 2020, which would make a waiting period a year or less (until June 2021).After November 2020, Council also can shorten the waiting period by 3/4th vote. City Charter, Article IV, Section 5. The Council and staff also may implement interim measures and pilot projects during the waiting period. The waiting period will take longer only if the City Council delays.

While CodeNEXT was “suspended” by the Council this August, the Council made it clear that they intended to “reboot” a comprehensive land development code revision after the November 2018 election. The question remains for Austin voters: do you want the final say at an election on the adoption of the next CodeNEXT? Proposition J proponents say it protects your neighborhood. Opponents say it is too complicated and should be left to the Council. The choice is yours.