The contentiousness of land use decisions in Austin, Texas
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Austin is alleged to be more contentious than its peer cities with regard to land use decisions. Local blogs and media are critical of the city’s land development code and public processes and there is a perception of unfairness when it comes to changing the city’s zoning ordinance. This research explores land use decisions in Austin, El Paso, and Denver. I look at the level of conflict and the public processes in each city to understand the factors that may make Austin feel more contentious than other cities or if that heightened contentiousness is only the perception of an inherently controversial issue. Through the data collection I found that Austin does have many more changes proposed and granted to its zoning ordinance than its peer cities, likely because of how complicated and out-of-date the land development code is. The approval ratings are similarly high across all cities. This high number of changes, combined with an even higher number of zoning items posted to council agendas but then postponed, may be perpetuating a perception that the land use covenant between the citizens and the city is being amended more often than it should be. I also look at innovative ways that cities across the country are reducing conflict, or the perception of it, with regard to public input, code structures, and public education. With its approval of a new comprehensive plan, Austin is poised to rewrite its land development regulations. The city would likely benefit from exploring some of these, and other, creative solutions to these common municipal conflicts.