Champion Tract Hoax
Developer’s attorney falls for fake website
As the Dec. 14 City Council meeting finally rolled around to the Champion Tract 3 zoning case, just after 9pm – returning for reconsideration after a court ruled that the original agenda item, previously approved, had been insufficiently posted – Richard Suttle, attorney for the owner of the northwest tract of land on 2222, briefly laid out his version of the tortured history of the proposed apartment development. "So where are we," he concluded, "after two years and seven months of trying to get 280 apartment units on the west side of town on a 45-acre tract at the intersection of two highways?" Suttle asked Council to reapprove the project on second and third reading, or "my client will suffer severe damages and delays."
There were plenty of neighborhood opponents waiting to testify, but before they began, Council Member Alison Alter told Suttle she was "disappointed" that he had earlier emailed council members "disparaging the community by using a hoax website .... Please be careful; that is not how we operate." Apparently, Greg Casar had informed Suttle that the site was "a hoax," and the attorney apologized to Council, saying he had done so earlier when he was told the site – which suggested that the neighbors "didn't want those kind of people over there" – was bogus. He repeated his apology, but added, "I can tell you that attitude is out there."
That served to fan the flames, generating a chorus of boos from the audience, and Alter insisted that Suttle also owed the neighbors an apology. He repeated, "I do apologize for passing along that website." Mayor Steve Adler restored order, and the hearing proceeded – although Suttle would not get his wish, as Council instead approved only on second reading, and referred the project for another review, by the Environmental Commission.
The mysterious "hoax" site in question was never identified, but turns out to be (more precisely) a satirical website aimed at lampooning such anti-CodeNEXT groups as the Austin Neighborhoods Council. Indeed, the URL is "www.austinneighborhoodscouncil.com" but the actual creators are unidentified and the various postings jokingly exaggerate the "NIMBY" positions associated with the umbrella neighborhood association organization. A post concerning the Champion project indeed denounces the multifamily project, congratulates attorney Bill Aleshire for bringing the successful lawsuit, and declares: "If they wanted to build these apartments in East Austin where those types of people want to live, then we wouldn't have needed to challenge this, but we can't have them in the neighborhoods where we live." The whole post is written in language so broad that even a developer's attorney should have recognized it as satire.