By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
There were transportation plans, drainage plans, park plans, and even a plan for plans. Last week’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon had an obvious theme. City staffers briefed an audience of about 50 local businesses on the City’s far-sighted blueprints.
The presentation, given by Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lance Dean and Assistant City Administrator Amber Lewis, essentially condensed last month’s nearly eight-hour city planning session into an hour-long format.
It was the latest installment in the “Lunch and Learn” program held every month by the Chamber. The program offers Chamber members a catered lunch and a program on topics of interest to local business.
Chamber of Commerce President Rick Hall introduced Dean, who began his position earlier this month. Hall is also a member of the EDC Board of Directors.
Dean presented a slideshow offering a whirlwind tour of the city’s anticipated growth. Statistics such as the 2,200 homes planned to be built inside the city limits, the 11,000 in the extraterritorial jurisdiction, or the $89 million opportunity for a grocery store, were compiled from the city’s research, consultants, the County and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The segment was dominated by one population figure from the Retail Coach, a consulting firm hired by the EDC to help attract business to the area. The firm reported that within Liberty Hill’s “retail area”— a zone encompassing the households of consumers who shop in Liberty Hill — there are roughly 34,000 people.
The figure, Dean said, stands in contrast to population figures for the city proper, which hover around 1,200 depending on the source.
Those statistics springboarded into a tour of transportation improvement projects planned in the near to far future to accommodate the coming growth.
TxDOT plans to eventually reroute the existing State Highway 29 as a feeder into a new, 10-lane highway, Dean said.
More immediate improvements to the road, such as a widening with two additional lanes, would not begin until traffic counts reach a significant enough level. A 2009 study estimated that those levels would take 15 years to attain, a timetable which, Dean added, is now halfway finished.
Dean said that while he at first thought that it could be detrimental to the town’s rural atmosphere, “it’s actually a huge opportunity, especially for people in this room right now.”
City-led projects and plans were presented by Lewis.
A master transportation plan, as an update to a now 10-year-old plan, will be drafted in collaboration with the consulting firm CP&Y.
Lewis said the Council’s goal is to create a number of “shovel-ready projects”—fully designed and plotted—that could be presented when applying for state and federal grants. An upcoming example, she said, would be the installation of right hand turn lanes at the intersection of Ranch Road 1869 and SH 29.
In addition to alleviating traffic stress, she said, a transportation plan would also help give the city a way to challenge Williamson County’s own transportation plan when it might interfere with the city’s interests. The County’s plan calls for a large transportation grid that would strive for major roadways every mile.
In a more immediate transportation project, the city plans next month to realign Charl Shipp and Loop 322 to be safer.
A Drainage master plan is also in the works from consulting firm K. Friese & Associates.
The firm is using software to render a detailed, three dimensional “drainage” map of Liberty Hill after rainfall. The method represents an advancement over drainage planning as it was even a decade ago, Lewis said. It is not limited to creek overflows, but can anticipate local drainage problems across the city.
A discussion of the Parks & Recreation plan covered both confirmed projects and ones in consideration.
A walking trail will loop Lions Foundation Park and extend out to SH 29.
Renovations to Veterans Memorial Park, which Lewis said is a priority for the Mayor, will add archways, detailed brickwork, and more. Lockwood Engineering has been hired for the project.
A long-discussed idea for a skate park in Nathan Wetzel Park, however, could be “dangerous.” And a swim center at City Park could be “expensive.” While unconfirmed, these projects are not yet off the table.
The city hopes to renovate the downtown Fowler Building, which it purchased in 2016, and turn it into a museum and memorial for the late sculptor Mel Fowler. The project, Lewis said, would be in conjunction with the Texas Historical Commission.
The expansion to the wastewater treatment plant is expected to double its capacity. From developers, timelines for buildout lead the city to expect over 1,000 new homes in the wastewater system every year.
To juggle all these plans and improvement projects, consultant Pix Howell has been contracted by the city as a “Project Manager.” His firm’s software graphs city projects onto a dynamic timeline according to their buildout. It’s use, Howell explained at the joint planning session last month, is to allow planners to know when they should “accelerate and decelerate” projects as needed.
The Chamber of Commerce’s next Lunch and Learn will be held May 25th. Registration is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. Elliott Scott with Scott Solutions will be speaking about disaster recovery and network security.