City Hall won’t pursue an alternative to the Land Use Voter Empowerment initiative despite a request to do so from Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich this week.
Himmelrich and Mayor Tony Vazquez made a request at the June 28 meeting to discuss an alternative to LUVE, but by the end of the brief discussion, Himmelrich was the only councilmember to support the proposal.
The discussion Tuesday night was limited to whether an alternative proposal should be drafted and didn’t cover what kind of alternatives might have been produced.
Himmelrich said she asked for the discussion to provide a less-extreme alternative for residents that were unhappy with some development but not necessarily supportive of everything in LUVE.
She said voter approval for projects that do not conform to existing zoning codes would discourage developers who believe they can go “to the sky” and get whatever they want from the city. She said voter approval for large projects would reduce speculation, create better projects and help control prices.
While LUVE requires voter approval for the kinds of projects Himmelrich criticized, it also requires a vote on projects over 32 feet, a restriction Himmelrich said was too onerous.
“I brought this forward because a lot of people asked me to bring forward discussion of something that is an alternative to the 32-foot LUVE initiative,” she said. “I think that there are people, like I do, who believe that 32 feet is simply the wrong pivot for the vote. I believe, as do the proponents of LUVE, that we should have a vote, particularly on our larger projects. I think if we have a vote it will improve the engagement of the residents of our town because I think then developers will know they can’t just get four votes, they have to engage people to go forward.”
Vazquez said he had backed the request for a discussion to hear the thoughts of the council, not necessarily because he wanted an alternative on the ballot.
He said he strongly opposes ballot box planning of any kind because development decisions are complicated and shouldn’t be tied to a single measurement like height or density. He said he has opposed large developments like the now defunct Hines project and wanted the council to retain the ability to evaluate which projects fit the community standard.
“I believe the council that sits up here, it’s our job and responsibility to move in that direction and address those issues of the citizens and the city as a whole,” he said.
Councilman Terry O’Day said alternative proposals create confusion among voters and the council should focus on sending a clear message of opposition to LUVE rather than muddy the waters with a competing proposal.
“I think we have to really balance the prospect of rushing this, getting this wrong and putting something before the voters that actually makes it even more confusing in an election,” he said.
Staff would have had to return to council by the last meeting in July with proposed language and, due to public noticing rules, the staff report would have to be finished in a couple of weeks. Both O’Day and Vazquez said the tight timeline to draft an alternative was a factor in their opposition.
Himmelrich ultimately made a motion to direct staff to return with a ballot measure that would provide a public vote for any project that exceeds zoning standards. Her motion failed to gain a second and died without a full vote of the council.
LUVE has already gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The measure is currently undergoing a City-requested study and those results will be presented in July. At that time, the council can choose to adopt LUVE into law or schedule it for a public vote in November.