City Council Breaks Law, Overturns HARC

By Ross Hunter

The Georgetown City Council on Tuesday night broke its own law. Council voted 4-2 to overturn the legitimate decision of HARC, the city’s Historic and Architectural Review Commission, without hearing any new evidence.

This was a violation of Title 17 of the Georgetown Code of Ordinances, the Unified Development Code, or UDC. As city staff outlined in its brief to Council, Section 3.13.08 of the UDC requires the Council in reviewing a HARC decision to act strictly as an appeals court, and not as the rule-making body it customarily is.

Council was not supposed to judge the merits of the case. This had already been done by HARC. Instead it was to establish if HARC had missed any evidence or acted against procedure. Part B of this subsection commands the Council to presume the HARC decision is valid, and sets the burden of proving otherwise on the appealing applicant.

Part C stipulates that the quality of evidence brought to this appeal shall be “competent,” such as would satisfy a court of law. “Incompetent” evidence would consist of such things as hearsay, unproven allegations and personal opinions of taste – all of the things that Council members brought to their ultimate decision.

In an address to Council members prior to their decision I reminded them that they had to set aside personal opinions and agendas, and switch from being masters of the law to being servants of the law. Other residents who spoke also warned that overturning the HARC decision without compelling evidence to do so would set a dangerous precedent. But for 4 members out of six, this advice fell on deaf, or perhaps closed, ears.

So now the Council has driven a new stake into the heart of its own downtown marketing plan. For years we’ve invested much taxpayer money and effort into creating an agreement. The agreement is that we will revitalize the downtown business district through the means of maintaining a historic appearance. UDC codifies this intent.

Now, because Council has violated its own UDC, confusion will rule in the place of law. We will now see a lighted sign on evenings and weekends advertising tirelessly that Merrill Lynch is closed. There will be more such things to come, competing with honest merchants who follow the rules and don’t have friends on Council.

Now, because Council has overturned HARC, we have to ask what value remains to an impartial body enforcing our design codes when simple lawlessness awaits in the Council Chamber. Our City Council has now acquired an object of great value, a favoritism that can be lobbied for, and is often in this world bought and sold. Council members will now find themselves in great danger of their integrity being bid for. I hope they have the character to resist.

[Note: this was a letter sent to the Williamson County Sun on September 24, 2009, reflecting the Council decision made on September 22.]

The Georgetown City Council on Tuesday night broke its own law. Council voted 4-2 to overturn the legitimate decision of HARC, the city’s Historic and Architectural Review Commission, without hearing any new evidence.
This was a violation of Title 17 of the Georgetown Code of Ordinances, the Unified Development Code, or UDC. As city staff outlined in its brief to Council, Section 3.13.08 of the UDC requires the Council in reviewing a HARC decision to act strictly as an appeals court, and not as the rule-making body it customarily is.
Council was not supposed to judge the merits of the case. This had already been done by HARC. Instead it was to establish if HARC had missed any evidence or acted against procedure. Part B of this subsection commands the Council to presume the HARC decision is valid, and sets the burden of proving otherwise on the appealing applicant.
Part C stipulates that the quality of evidence brought to this appeal shall be “competent,” such as would satisfy a court of law. “Incompetent” evidence would consist of such things as hearsay, unproven allegations and personal opinions of taste – all of the things that Council members brought to their ultimate decision.
In an address to Council members prior to their decision I reminded them that they had to set aside personal opinions and agendas, and switch from being masters of the law to being servants of the law. Other residents who spoke also warned that overturning the HARC decision without compelling evidence to do so would set a dangerous precedent. But for 4 members out of six, this advice fell on deaf, or perhaps closed, ears.
So now the Council has driven a new stake into the heart of its own downtown marketing plan. For years we’ve invested much taxpayer money and effort into creating an agreement. The agreement is that we will revitalize the downtown business district through the means of maintaining a historic appearance. UDC codifies this intent.
Now, because Council has violated its own UDC, confusion will rule in the place of law. We will now see a lighted sign on evenings and weekends advertising tirelessly that Merrill Lynch is closed. There will be more such things to come, competing with honest merchants who follow the rules and don’t have friends on Council.
Now, because Council has overturned HARC, we have to ask what value remains to an impartial body enforcing our design codes when simple lawlessness awaits in the Council Chamber. Our City Council has now acquired an object of great value, a favoritism that can be lobbied for, and is often in this world bought and sold. Council members will now find themselves in great danger of their integrity being bid for. I hope they have the character to resist.
 

3 replies


  1. Don’t know about Georgetown politicians, but when most other politicians get caught flouting the laws they are sworn to uphold, they get booted out of office. Anyone out there willing to put on a pair do some public fit kickin’?


  2. You go guys! I’m with you on this!!


  3. sorry I couldn’t make it to the Council meeting. I’m glad there was overwhelming support for harc and it’s decisions. we need them to stay strong so old town can live long. it’s the best old town in all of texas and it needs to remain like it is and not get like downtown austin has turned into. 🙂

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