Downtown Committee considers revitalization survey responses

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Surveys returned to the City of Liberty Hill following its Downtown Revitalization Summit showed the top priorities as parking, clean up, and improved traffic flow.

And of the ideas for possible asthetic improvements to downtown, respondants spoke most favorably of the traffic circle concept at Loop 332 and CR 279.

During a meeting of the Council’s Downtown Committee Tuesday afternoon, which was only attended by Mayor Connie Fuller and city staff, City Manager Greg Boatright said the public meeting Feb. 27 generated a great deal of interest from downtown property owners, businesses and residents.

City staff provided a comment form at the Feb. 27 meeting, which attracted a standing-room-only crowd, and received seven completed surveys. The surveys were shared with committee members and The Independent this week.

Although the current city budget includes funding for a code enforcement officer, no one has been hired for the position. Survey respondants said the city needs to be cleaned up in order to attract new business and customers to the downtown area.

“The trashed out properties make Liberty Hill look like a depressed community,” wrote Rick Netherland. “Make business/property owners clean up their property.”

One respondant wrote that the City should enforce health and safety codes following heavy promotion of its bi-annual citywide cleanup day. “Place a time limit on compliance. If the homeowner/business does not meet code compliance, the City can take action, have the property cleaned up and bill the homeowner,” the survey stated.

Chiropractor Jerry Casebolt, whose business is located downtown, wrote a 12-page letter outlining his concerns and sharing ideas.

Casebolt said he was concerned about the possible impact on his business from sidewalk construction and changes to traffic flow.

Currently, customers to all downtown businesses park along Loop 332.

“We do have to consider that the time it takes to build sidewalks will disrupt the current flow, but that is part of change,” said City Planning Director Jim Bechtol. “Casebolt makes a good point with regard to that.

“And how do we manage traffic if we do a round-about? How would we divert traffic?” Bechtol said.

Since the downtown meeting last month, city staff learned that Community Development Block Grant funds will not pay for sidewalk improvements in the immediate two-block downtown area. Bechtol said to utilize grant funds there, business owners would be required to complete extensive salary surveys on their employees, and present other financial information, which he said was not likely to occur.

The City presented last month a plan for sidewalk construction in three phases that relied heavily on grant monies. Grant funds will still be used to build sidewalks in other parts of the downtown residential area as planned.

Boatright said this week that the City and its Economic Development Corp. would find the funds to make the sidewalk improvements. He said the EDC has already budgeted about $100,000 for sidewalks and facade grants.

“We can put the funds together to do one side at a time,” Boatright said.

He suggested using brick pavers in various parts of the downtown area that could be purchased and engraved in honor of a loved one.

“The next step is to decide what look we want and put a bid package together,” Boatright said, adding that improvements to sidewalks should also include railings and decorative lighting. He said staff would be working on a budget.

Bechtol said he would be meeting with an architect hired recently by the Council to redesign the City’s newly-purchased building downtown. The Holloway building on Loop 332 will be home to administrative offices and possibly a large meeting room, in addition to about 22 new parking spaces.

The Mayor and staff also discussed naming opportunities for city buildings. Fuller said the Parks Board is working to develop a form and process for that after it received a request to name City Park after the late Charles Canady, who served the city 13 years as council member and mayor.

“This is kind of a polarizing event (naming facilities),” said Bechtol. “Most cities develop policies for this.”

The committee stressed again the importance of creating a downtown business alliance or association.

Fuller suggested the City facilitate a meeting of those who might be interested in serving.

Boatright added that the downtown area needs a volunteer to help coordinate events and activities there. He said for now that should be a function of the downtown organization to provide such a volunteer.

“We have a lot of great ideas for activities, but the City can’t do all of that,” he said. “We need someone to help turn those great ideas into reality.”

In addition to Mayor Fuller, other committee members are Councilmembers Elizabeth Branigan and Ron Rhea. Branigan and Rhea were not present Tuesday.

The next meeting of the Downtown Committee will be at 2 p.m. April 14.

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