Spinning and Campaigning for Props

RECEIVED Tue., May 2, 2006

Dear Editor,
    Last week Liveable City released a report indicating that, since 1999, the city of Austin has "grandfathered" 122 developments over the Edwards Aquifer (www.liveablecity.org/media/CleanWaterProp2.pdf) in direct violation of the SOS Ordinance. Usually grandfathering means allowing an existing use to continue despite the fact that the zoning no longer allows that use. With respect to the aquifer, grandfathering has exactly the opposite meaning, namely allowing a new use to be implemented (in violation of zoning) simply because the owner had made some indication (at some time in the past) that they might want to do something like this some time in the future.
    The latter version of grandfathering is of questionable legal merit and only exists because of an Austin-bashing state law sponsored by Mike Krusee and passed with the help of a lot of cash from Stratus and similar big development interests. There is no legal precedent for such a thing that I know of – it's a straightforward right-wing "takings" law, which can and should be strenuously challenged in court, as it jeopardizes environmental preservation nationwide by setting a precedent for such laws. Suppose I own land that is discovered to have some extremely critical environmental features. All I need do is drop off a pencil-sketched site plan at the One Texas Center indicating a Tokyo-density development covering the entire site, and the city must allow me to bulldoze the entire site (or agree to pay me $50 million per acre – the cost of land in Tokyo).
    Unfortunately the city government has shown no interest in standing up to and legally challenging "grandfathered" development over the aquifer. The Edwards Plateau is considered to contain one of the 20 most critical biodiversity zones in the entire world (see, for example, www.dailytexanonline.com/media/paper410/news/2006/01/26/LifeArts/Slipping.Under.Texas-1505649.shtml), and we're simply standing by as it's paved over to make way for AMD, strip malls, and endless suburban sprawl. Perhaps we need to send the city government a message by voting yes on Proposition 2.
Patrick Goetz
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