Legal Battle Over Shoal Creek Development Intensifies

Jun 15, 2016

A few months ago, residents of Austin’s Shoal Creek neighborhood sued to stop a massive new development from going up. Now, that legal battle is getting more complicated. 

Twenty homeowners filed a lawsuit in district court in April over a proposed development called the Grove at Shoal Creek. It alleges that the city denied residents' legal right to petition. Grayson Cox is one of the plaintiffs in the case. He said residents petitioned against zoning changes for the project — known in zoning jargon as a planned unit development (PUD) — but the city ruled against them.

"The neighbors around the Grove PUD zoning case have filed a valid petition," Cox said. "The city has verified that it meets all the requirements to be a valid petition, but the city is denying it as valid."

Residents are citing a state law that says if 20 percent of the property owners within 200 feet of a site petition against a zoning change, it needs approval by a three-fourths vote of City Council – as opposed to a simple majority. Cox said that’s important because some residents still have concerns about the 75-acre development, like traffic and environmental impact. He thinks the Grove case could set a precedent for how the city handles PUD zoning in the future.

"The reason that this law was initiated was not to stop zoning changes," Cox said. "It was to incentivize property owners and developers to work together to find reasonable compromises and solutions so that councils and commissions across the state wouldn’t turn into these battlegrounds between developers and neighbors.” 

A court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1, but lately the legal dispute has become more complicated. The developer, ARG Bull Creek, has gotten involved with the case. Assistant City Attorney Matthew Tynan confirmed that ARG has filed its own motion, though he said he could not comment on how that may impact the city. 

"Essentially it was an answer, because they were listed in the plaintiff’s original petition, so it’s kind of a catchall to bring them into the case as an actual party," Tynan said. 

In an emailed statement, the developer called the lawsuit “misguided.” They write, “the City of Austin has consistently and correctly interpreted and implemented state law with respect to the process of zoning our property.”

The Grove project is set to go before the city’s Environmental Commission Wednesday, bringing it one step closer to a full city council vote.