City zeroes in on land use plan
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
FREDERICKSBURG — Philosophical discussions about growth and the future of Liberty Hill can go on forever and can certainly eat up every moment of a two-day strategic planning session, but when City Council members, staff, consultants and engineers gathered to talk about the community’s future this week, the focus was on something more concrete.
Discussion after discussion led to the topic of creating a land use plan for Liberty Hill.
“In order for any city to be ready for the next 15 to 20 years worth of growth, the first thing that has to happen is a land use plan,” said Mayor Rick Hall. “I’ve talked to the staff and we’ve got a rough draft of a land use plan we are trying to finalize to get to P&Z and then to Council to at least get them to sign off on this to get started.”
Having a land use plan in place makes all other planning easier, according to Hall.
“If we don’t know what our land use is we don’t know how the roads need to look,” he said. “That’s why I am trying to step everybody back to the land use plan so that when we can overlay drainage, transportation, all that to see how it all lifts and know where we need to adjust. If we do it out of order we’re just going to be in trouble.”
There are many components in the City’s current planning process that will play a critical role in piecing together a land use plan, including the Unified Development Code (UDC), transportation plan, drainage plan, water and wastewater plans and the development of the CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) plan for the City.
“It would be great to come up with a land use plan because that’s essentially what CAMPO is going to do as part of this platinum process,” said Pix Howell of Diverse Planning and Development. “You want to have a lot more say in that.”
As the pace of development – both residential and commercial – picks up, the inquiries with the City are evolving.
“The questions we are receiving now as people come in and meet – Sally (McFeron) and myself – are evolving also,” said EDC Executive Director Lance Dean. “The land use comes up more and more frequently because they want to know what the City’s land use plan is. They want to know what the zoning is. They want to know what the process to change zoning is.”
Historically, developers have come to town looking to develop one or two acres, but Dean said now developers are showing up looking for 500 or more acres.
“We do need to know where we’re going to start putting stuff because even though one of our big assets right now is we have land, it is fast disappearing in terms of what is easily accessible today in terms of infrastructure, roads and utilities,” he said. “We should start looking ahead and thinking about that.”
Chris Pezold, the Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, asked how you formulate and implement a land use plan while still protecting a property owner’s right to see land and use land for what they choose.
“How do you do that where you protect liberty and the landowner’s rights somehow in that?” he asked.
Having a growing, thriving community with the amenities and services people want means there will be trade offs.
“The only way to deal with that is the understanding that the more proximity you have to other people and other needs and jurisdictions, the more you move toward what is best for the whole,” Howell said. “You can’t get around it. We live in a community because we want to be close to services. For that privilege you end up giving up some of your rights.”
For Hall it is a difficult process, but one where inaction would spur far greater troubles down the road.
“It is a very difficult process, but it is part of the pains of growth and if we don’t manage that growth we will be upside down quick,” Hall said.
And a land use plan is not something set in stone for the City, but something that should be expected to evolve.
“They are living, breathing documents and there are processes people can go through to where it takes it into the public realm,” McFeron said. “Plus, those plans are reevaluated on a regular basis.”
An evolving plan doesn’t mean it should be easy to change or manipulate in every instance, though.
“It’s good to understand that you don’t want to make it too easy to change,” Howell said. “The cool thing about quality, thoughtful regulation is that it stands the test of time. There’s a way to build a land use plan where you build basically options of what it can do. They can be slightly vague in their description, but it’s something that has to be revisited anytime someone comes in with a zoning request for change.”
Everyone working together as plans develop will be important.
“The whole key to the issue is cooperation,” said City Administrator Greg Boatright. “By the City cooperating with the developer and the landowner, and looking at what it is that fits, but also there has to be a quality of life issue associated with it for us to be successful as a city to develop a sense of community. Overall it’s cooperation, between our City Council, our P&Z, our Parks and Rec, our EDC and it goes beyond that a lot of times. It can be our school district.”
Parties outside the community can also play a critical role, including Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
“TxDOT is a huge player in our ability to capture what it is a landowner needs, whether it be deceleration lanes or signalization,” Boatright said.
One way to nudge growth in the direction the community desires is with infrastructure.
“Infrastructure is the most expensive part of all this, major roads, big water lines, sewer plants,” Howell said. “But it’s also the one that you maybe aim in different directions and ready for development without really spending the big bucks until someone comes in there and puts the product on the ground.”
A land use plan is one way to determine what direction the City wants to go in terms of growth, but it can’t be done in a vacuum.
“However you go about doing that it’s a pretty robust public input process,” Howell said. “I think it is important to have your community leaders involved in it. You want people who really have an interest in how Liberty Hill grows. You want them at the table and have meetings and pull out maps and mark stuff up.”