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Developers say City of Austin's approval process hinders affordable housing efforts, violates law

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Date: 2020-10-15 05:22:30

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Chris Paladino took a risk.

Investing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his retirement savings, Paladino purchased a lot in southwest Austin with the goal of building four affordably-priced homes by splitting the lot into two separate lots.

Instead, Paladino says he’s lost tens of thousands of dollars and nearly a year’s time fighting for approval of the small subdivision by the City of Austin. He submitted his plan last November.

“I’m throwing up my hands,” Paladino told KXAN. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Paladino filed a lawsuit against the City accusing city employees of violating a law approved by the Texas Legislature in 2019, House Bill 3167. The law requires municipalities to approve or reject a subdivision proposal within 30 days.

Paladino is seeking an injunction and attorney fees.

“I’m not a big builder. I do this on the side for my retirement plan, and we were very excited to build more affordable housing in this area,” he said.

Homebuilders throughout Austin shared similar stories with KXAN, adding the City’s goal of adding high-density, affordable housing runs perpendicular to its approval process.

“Whether it’s four lots or 40 lots, you can’t do it in less than two years,” said Chris Peterson, whose company Rivendale Homes builds around 25 homes each year in Austin. “I moved here eight years ago from Northern California, which is a very intense, very challenging regulatory environment and sadly when I came to Austin, I found a situation that was even worse.”

Paladino said the delay and added costs will increase the price tag of the homes by at least $100,000 each.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the City of Austin said: “In addition to the completeness check process it already used, the City has added a new pre-application assessment, which is intended to help developers identify potential complications that need to be addressed prior to submittal, rather than receive a conditional approval or denial of an application.”

That pre-application process, developers say, is adding years to the project approval timeline.

“It’s exactly what they want to do,” Paladino said. “There’s no excuse for taking months or years to approve a simple subdivision.”

The City of Austin declined to be interviewed for this story.

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