Council, staff talk planning at retreat
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
FREDERICKSBURG — There’s no such thing as too much information, but for two days last week, consultants, advisors and city staff tried to disprove that theory.
The City Council’s annual strategic planning session included updates and discussion on drainage, parks, transportation, water utilities, city finance and planning. The two-day event, held in Fredericksburg, gave council members, board chairs, and city staff an opportunity to work more closely on the issues.
The goal, as spelled out by Mayor Connie Fuller and City Administrator Greg Boatright, is to make sure the City has plans in place that can help the community grow the right way.
“We have to be mindful that if we don’t make the plan, then those plans are being made for us and for our city,” Fuller said. “We want to take a proactive role so that we don’t end up with things we really don’t want and are not good for our city.”
In phase 1 of the City’s drainage master plan, K. Friese & Associates identified 17 problem areas in the city, which have been ranked based on criteria to include the impact on property, streets, overlap with other projects, funding sources and the need for outside entity coordination.
In phase 2, the goal is to begin addressing these problem areas, the top five of which – based on rankings – were discussed Feb. 22.
“We came up with 17 problem areas,” said Chad Cormack, with K. Friese & Associates. “We ranked them to determine how we would tackle these drainage issues throughout the city. Phase 2 is developing solutions on how we will address these issues throughout the city.”
The top five problem areas according to the rankings include Jenks Branch, downtown flooding, East Carson Avenue, Liberty Trails Apartments and the City Park and County Road 200.
While solutions to these issues can be engineered and constructed, planning to get them done in a logical order and finding the funds to pay for them is something different.
“There will be 17 summary sheets for all the drainage issues in your city,” Cormack said. “This will be a living document, this will be what the city’s going to work through for the next five to 10 years, however long it takes to get them fixed.”
Having a documented comprehensive plan to deal with city-wide drainage issues will help guide future development as well as solve historic drainage problems.
“Once council gets this adopted, then Sally (McFeron) has a tool she can refer to,” Boatright said. “The more we can do that on the developer’s dime, the better off we will be. There will be opportunities, though, to partner through development agreements and those kinds of things.”
As the conversation turned from the completed analysis, to how to manage future growth to mitigate new issues or prevent making existing ones worse, funding took center stage.
I know this is stuff that is controversial, it is everywhere, but it is a great time for the city to start looking at it,” Cormack said.
The first option discussed was a storm water utility fee.
“Nobody likes new taxes and nobody likes being told what to do, but the important thing I want to hammer home is that we should start thinking of storm water and drainage as a utility,” Cormack said. “As the city grows and develops, the city is going to be responsible for putting in a lot of infrastructure, just like in a water or wastewater system.”
He emphasized that being proactive about the drainage issue as growth occurred is much more cost-effective than being reactionary.
“We can get out in front of it and develop equitable ways to distribute the cost among the community, which would be significantly less now, or we could pay later when people are flooding and have to come back and do flood mitigation projects that are drastically more expensive,” Cormack said.
Revenue from a storm water utility fund can be used for operations and maintenance. In the future, it would also allow the city to issue revenue bonds. Establishing such a fund would require an ordinance notification sand public hearing.
“Public outreach is paramount, because nobody likes paying extra money when they don’t know what it’s going to,” Cormack said.
The state has guidelines for what the fees charged can be based on, and “must be directly related to property runoff characteristics, reasonable, equitable and nondiscriminatory.”
Other area cities including Round Rock, Kyle, Georgetown and Taylor have these fees in place.
What residents and businesses would be charged would be based on a Fee Equivalent Residential Unit. The base fee would be calculated on a single family home size and its average impervious cover. An impervious cover is anything that prevents water from seeping into the ground.
As an example, if the average was determined to be 3,000 square feet per property, then all single family residential units would be charged the determined base fee – such as $2 per month. That square footage would then be applied to multifamily, commercial and industrial uses to determine the fee for each. If an industrial building, along with its parking area, was 12,000 square feet, then the monthly fee would be $8.
Having the fee in place before more growth arrives is something Cormack said will make it easier to accept for many.
“This is common in adjacent cities and the development community is used to seeing it,” Cormack said. “At some point, the City of Liberty Hill, as we grow, is going to want to implement some fund like this. If we can get it on the ground now, people will know it when they move here, it is then a lot easier to swallow.”
Boatright agreed that planning ahead of the growth that is coming is a benefit.
“We’re 15 years old,” Boatright said. “We’ve got an opportunity to look at and explore the best alternatives for our city to look at and possibly implement. Drainage is one of those things that kind of gets put to the back and is kind of an afterthought, yet when it rains it comes to the forefront.”
The second fee discussed was an impact fee, which would pay for regional systems, such as ponds and other options.
“This would be a fee for new development within the city limits and it would fund future storm water infrastructure,” Cormack said. “It could pay for future culvert and bridge improvements as development comes in.”
This fee could be based on regional detention plans or preservation of 100-year flood plains. In some areas, developers could opt for on-site detention or pay a fee to help fund regional detention. In others areas, a fee would be developed to help with conveyance issues.
Regional planning for how to mitigate drainage is critical based on the big picture, according to Cormack, because while one development site may have a negligible impact, many new developments put together could have a much higher impact.
“We just want responsible development,” he said. “I think we have some options to look at. We’re at the very onset of this, the details haven’t been worked out, but have options for doing things holistically.”
No plan to implement a fee is in place, but Boatright said it was time to begin discussions of the issue to determine what the council might want to present to citizens.
“We need to have that discussion as a staff, then make a presentation to council as to what we feel like would be the best option for our city,” he said. “Right now if I had to make a choice we would probably present to council the option of a flat fee that would help to start to underwrite some of these projects we need to construct.”
Liberty Hill has a number of plans converging at once with its parks program.
“There’s a lot of park activity, and it is great to be able to get out in front of that,” said Pix Howell of Diversified Planning and Development. “As areas grow, the one thing that always comes back and always concerns residents is, ‘where are the kids going to play?’”
With the community pool project on tap for City Park, the renovations nearly complete at Veterans Park and plans being finalized for Wetzel Park, Howell said one of the most exciting things is the long-term trail plans.
“San Gabriel Trail would go from Liberty Hill, basically all the way through Georgetown and maybe even eventually east of there. This would be a national treasure,” he said, adding that he worked on the Brushy Creek Trail, which is now on the national register. “This trail could be even more spectacular because obviously you would have the river, the bluffs and the dinosaur tracks and things like that.”
Because it involves so many entities and landowners, there is discussion of forming a nonprofit to spearhead the trail plan in the future.
“This would be especially good because there is going to be some point where you are going to have to cross the river, and as you might imagine, that is going to be very expensive,” Howell said.
At Wetzel, design is ongoing for the planned splash pad and parking and Howell said he hopes to get the project bids out in March.
The city is eagerly awaiting announcement in March of the annual Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) grants. Liberty Hill applied for a pair of grants, worth as much as $75,000 for Wetzel Park and $500,000 for City Park. Just how much of the plans in the works that can be done now will depend somewhat on the grant funds.
“If we’re successful in getting one or both (grants), or maybe even just the one at Wetzel, then we could most likely do the (splash pad) at Wetzel and at (the new pool),” Boatright said, who added he is concerned about the projected higher bids the city expects for the pool project at City Park.
From here to there
In a growing city, transportation issues are always at the forefront, and from the one-way streets downtown to discussions of county plans for a tollroad bypass, there is plenty to chew on.
Of concern to some is the portion of the county transportation plan that calls for an eventual tollroad bypass running around the south side of Liberty Hill, according to Howell, who said it would not be beneficial to development. If the city were to create its own bypass, he suggested, the county plan might not be needed.
“How could we do something that would cause them not to build it like that?” Howell asked. “How could you create a situation where you’ve got a bypass that runs around the south side, that may even go to 29 on the east? You’re really creating commercial opportunities rather than this elevated toll road parkway section that would go around the south side of town. It makes sense for the city to have control of its own destiny, especially in an area it is obviously going to grow into? I think if the city had a viable alternative to that bypass to serve the city, the county would probably back off on it.”
With plans for the roundabout downtown being drawn up, the city is working with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to take control of Loop 332. This would also help in efforts to do other projects downtown such as relocating utilities because utilities can’t be placed under a TxDOT roadway and there is limited or no right of way available through downtown.
“We’ve talked to TxDOT about doing that,” Howell said. “They will make certain improvements before that happens. That can happen all at the same time the roundabout can be constructed.”
It takes a council vote to begin the process, and if approved by the council, would likely take six to nine months.
Boatright summed up the outside challenges to what the city is planning by pointing out that the Legislature is restricting local governments more and more, and it has become more important for cities to follow the state’s actions more closely.
“That’s one of the things we’re really trying to become better in tune with because of the Legislature,” he said. “They are trying to radically change the way cities operate. If they’re successful in doing a lot of the things that they are proposing, our city will be effected in a way that would cause us to not do the things we are doing right now because of tax rates and annexation.
“Anytime you can get the ear of a state rep, we need to work on them,” Boatright said. “We have to have a plan to address these things being planned in the Legislature. They are trying to limit what local government does, which is the government that has the most interaction with its own people, but at the same time pushing down more regulations.”