P&Z stresses urgency in process of revising ordinances

By SHELLY WILKISON

Anxious to revise “unfriendly” ordinances that the business community sees as restricting growth, the Planning & Zoning Commission told City Council members and their newly-hired administrator Tuesday that action is needed now.

During an hour-long workshop, which was posted for the purpose of allowing the Council to outline its goals and expectations for the Commission, the two groups discussed a plan for reviewing and revising the City’s Unified Development Code of ordinances.

Pete McKinney, a consultant recently hired under contract by the City to act as a city administrator, building inspector and code enforcement officer, said he would take one month to review the UDC and make suggestions for change.

Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended the City Council suspend the UDC for six months so that it could be rewritten to better suit Liberty Hill. The panel also wanted the Council to suspend the City’s Comprehensive Plan, a document developed in 2004 that the Commission deemed was outdated.

The City’s attorney advised the Council that suspending the ordinances that regulate signs, zoning, permitting and other business local government has with the public, would put the City at risk and the recommendation was tabled.

“We want to build a concensus (between the P&Z and Council),” said P&Z Vice President Wes Griffin. Liberty Hill can attract business “if we can present a friendly, less regulatory attitude.”

McKinney said cities throughout Central Texas have similar ordinances. While some can be relaxed, many are part of state law and can not be changed at the local level.

McKinney said in Johnson City and Blanco where he has been involved in revising city ordinances, the process took two years.

“This is of immense importance,” said Commissioner Chris Pezold. “We need to do something before taxes get out of control. I’ve got investments in this town I’ve been waiting on for five years. This (growth) is stalled on city performance.”

Pezold suggested that McKinney review the UDC in sections and present his suggestions for change in increments to move the process along faster.

“I don’t want to piecemeal it. I will do it all and give it to you. I will put in what works and get rid of what doesn’t,” McKinney said, adding that the process will move faster if P&Z members “work with your council and do your homework when I give it to you. I brought a lot of this up when I was here in the past and they (previous council) had no intention of doing it.”

McKinney was previously employed by the City of Liberty Hill as a building inspector and code enforcement officer. His job was eliminated in 2011.

Commissioner Patrick Harlow said increases in property taxes and a lack of water poses more of a threat to economic development than the UDC.

“I think taxes and the water situation is more constricting than the UDC,” he said. “Taxes will be ridiculous and there will be no infrastructure. If they (businesses) can’t pay the taxes or get water, they aren’t going to build here.”

The P&Z and Council agreed the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2004 needs to be revised and updated. This summer, a representative of the Lower Colorado River Authority facilitated a workshop with council members on plan development. Previous city plans were developed with the guidance of LCRA.

After P&Z Chairman Clyde Davis complained that the process of revising a plan was moving too slow, McKinney said,  “You’re going to get a cracker box idea from them (LCRA).”

In addition to the discussion on revising the UDC and Comprehensive Plan, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Crane reviewed state law regarding open meetings and communications between appointees.

He said even though the Commission has no rule-making authority, it is still obligated to follow state law regarding open meetings. He warned that even the most simple email between members and phone communications can violate state law and have repercussions on the City.

“We need to ensure that we’re following procedures correctly,” Crane said.

Council members Vicki Brewer and Byron Tippie were not present Tuesday. All members of the P&Z Commission attended the meeting called by the Council.

The P&Z Commission holds regular meeting on the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.