Council okays plan for Central Park

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By Christine Bolaños

A new unit development in Liberty Hill is moving forward after the council agreed to change zoning for the area from downtown commercial/retail to planned unit development on Monday.

The Central Park subdivision will be built on two acres of the Henry Fields Survey No. 233.

Developer Chris Pezold said Jim Bechtol, the city’s former planning director, first brought up the idea about a year ago. Pezold, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, is planning to dedicate 0.6 acres of the land for a park.

“Our biggest issue is traffic in our area,” he explained. “So what we’re doing is dedicating 10 feet all the way around the property; all four sides. We’re doing four-foot sidewalks all the way around.”

There will be a one-way road to help mitigate traffic.

“All the units will have a two-car garage on them,” Pezold said.

The development will be structured in such a way when drivers back their cars out of the driveway, their car headlights will not disturb neighbors or park visitors.

“The idea is to have about 1,800-square-foot, three bedrooms, two-and-half baths,” Pezold said. “Entry from the rear. We’ve really tried to think through the issues with the trees.”

He said this allows for a balance where there is still some natural charm amid new homes being built in town.

“We think this is something that really fits into our downtown,” City Administrator Greg Boatright told council members during his report. “When you start talking about the size of the homes, the lots, I like the concept.”

He said Pezold and developer Jon Branigan have worked well with the city.

Branigan addressed the Council during the public comments portion of the meeting to bring up his concerns about how the City works with developers. He said he realized the City is going through growing pains and changes as of a result of growth, but thought the City could improve how it works with developers.

“It’s kind of been challenging to work with the City from start to finish,” said the longtime Liberty Hill resident in reference to Rosemont, a new single-family housing development. “I’ve been working on this project for a year-and-a-half. There’s been some gotcha moments where I felt it would’ve been good to know some stuff up front.”

He said the project ended up being more expensive that he believes it should be to develop.

“You guys are encouraging growth and downtown smart growth and good projects coming in,” Branigan said. “Like Chris (Pezold’s) project and I hope my project. I just think it would better for the City to work more favorably with developers.”

He said he believes city staff and city council should be more open to working with developers on their projects that will ultimately change Liberty Hill’s landscape. He did emphasize his gratitude at the project moving forward.

“Jon Branigan on the Rosemont project has done a really good job of working with us and getting into the lift station at San Gabriel Apartments,” Boatright said during his report. “By Jon stepping up to the plate, and getting an easement and spending some off-site money to help us get into that lift station, is a huge plus for a city.

“Same thing with Chris (Pezold),” Boatright added. “We’re going to have one central station, one gravity pump station that works like a lift station, at that site.”

The City received an opinion of “unmodified” on its annual external audit, the highest rating an audit can receive, for fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2014 and ending Sept. 30, 2015. Accountant Ben Cohen thanked Assistant City Administrator Amber Lewis and the staff for their cooperation during the process of completing the audit.

“We’ve given the City for the third year in a row a clean opinion,” said Cohen. “That means we found your financial statements free of material mistakes and it’s reported with generally accepted accounting principles. That is the highest level of insurance that we as auditors can give.”

He said net position continues to go up, which is expected for a growing city.

“Everything pretty much increased from last year due to the fact that you’re growing,” Cohen said.

This includes revenue from property tax, sales tax, water and sewage operations. The City’s ending fund balance is roughly $1.3 million. Auditors typically compare ending fund balance to expenditures to determine the financial health of a city. Expenditures were roughly $1.2 million.

“What that tells me is the City has enough money in their fund balance to operate for a year,” Cohen explained. “That means, God forbid, the city had a tornado, and couldn’t collect any money, you could still operate the city for a year without receiving any money.”

The preferred standard is three-months in a savings account. The City has gone beyond that at four times that amount. There is no negative variance in expenditures.

“What that tells me is that the city departments, city staff and city management did a great job of amending the budget when needed,” Cohen said.

The City Council accepted Police Chief Randy Williams’ resignation effective April 23 due to health reasons. The agenda item was originally planned for executive session, but at the City Attorney’s recommendation, the Council decided to hold its discussion publicly.

“He’s been our chief for 10 years,” said Mayor Connie Fuller. “I’m asking for you to honor his wishes.”

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Branigan made a motion, albeit with “extreme reluctance,” to accept the resignation. Council member Liz Rundzieher recalled the times Williams turned down pay raises so that there was enough money left for his police force.

“He’d say, ‘Put it aside and give it to the guys,’” she recalled.

Dr. Ron Rhea said over the years he has gained a friend in Williams through his work with him.

“I want to let him know I appreciate his duty to service and just the friendship to Liberty Hill and also to myself,” Rhea said. “He’s always been accessible and I just want to thank you.”

Fuller said the Council wishes him the best. Boatright told The Independent immediately following the meeting that the City wants to take its time in finding the right person to fill Williams’ role. In the meantime, Sgt. Jeff Ringstaff, will be running the department as interim chief as of April 23.

“We’ll post (the position) and then we’ll come back at the next council meeting and inform the Council as to where we’re at in the process,” Boatright said. “What I talked to the Mayor about this afternoon to see if she’d be interested in appointing a committee.”

The committee would look over applications, narrow down candidates and make a recommendation to council. Members of the committee could include a staff member, one or two council members, the municipal court judge and clerk and possibly a member of the community.

“To give a community perspective on what they would like to see from their law enforcement,” Boatright said.

The decision on the committee will be up the Council. Since Liberty Hill has appointed an interim police chief, Boatright said leadership is in no rush to find a replacement.

“It’s a very important decision for us,” Boatright said. “We certainly want to make the right decision going forward. It’s something that could have a huge impact on our community so it’s something we want to try to get the very best person we possibly can.”

Williams has been the police chief in Liberty Hill since the department began operating in 2006. He is a life-long resident of the community.

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