EDC looks toward future for Liberty Hill
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Liberty Hill should be a place where people recognize one another and know each other by name, but also a place that says “we’re open for business”, eagerly embracing growth. But, the unanswered question is, how to get there?
The Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation (EDC) began its strategic planning session July 19 with a question about what the future of the city looks like in the mind of each board member, and the consensus was that it should keep its small-town feel and sense of a close community, while growing to improve the quality of life and build the tax base.
Each board member chimed in on the question, as well as EDC Executive Director Lance Dean.
“I think of somewhere that is safe, attractive, somewhere we have the ability to get all the services we need here in town and we don’t have to leave town,” Dean said. “That we have choices for higher education locally and we have the ability for people to make a living here locally, not just in the service industry but professionals as well. That’s very broad, but for me that’s what will make this a self-sufficient community is to have the ability to do all that here.”
Throughout the two-hour session, board members, along with Mayor Rick Hall and Council Member Liz Rundzieher, tossed around ideas ranging from new zoning requirements, to local higher education to more focused advertising of the community. Mentions were made of more healthcare in the area, local higher education opportunities and even rail service into Austin, but the root of the discussion was how to move forward.
“From an economic development standpoint, how do we start taking those ideals and putting them into practice today, a couple of years from now, and further on down the road?” Dean asked.
The focus boiled down to development guidelines and promotion of the economic opportunities in Liberty Hill.
One area the board felt would help get Liberty Hill moving toward that future vision was more clearly defined development guidelines.
“We want an attractive city, so how do we go about doing that in a responsible way, not in a restrictive way, but a responsible way?” Dean said. “I’ve heard comments from citizens that they’re sick of metal buildings. There’s nothing that says you can’t have a metal building right now. We’re running out of frontage as well, and that’s where you want to have nice development.”
When Rundzieher followed with her objection to more storage units, the conversation turned to zoning as a way to direct development to certain areas rather than try to keep out certain businesses.
As the group talked about zoning issues in general terms, Hall zeroed in on the unfinished Unified Development Code (UDC).
“We have got to get the UDC done, because without that, as much as I hate to say it, much of your efforts are for naught,” he said. “If the city doesn’t tell you, ‘this is how we do things,’ you have people putting up signs how they want to. You have people putting structures up where they want to. We need to hand you our UDC and say, ‘Go get ‘em’”
The end of 2018 is the target date Hall has set for having a completed product.
“Us failing to provide that to you is our fault,” he said. “That’s one reason my commitment and my goal is to have that done before the end of the year, and the end of the year is coming quick.”
It was Hall’s second mention of the UDC in a week’s time, doing so the previous week in a city strategic planning meeting. As part of the renewed effort to complete the UDC, which stalled in March, Hall wants someone from every board on the UDC committee this time around.
“We have to have a collaborative effort from everybody,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, EDC Board Member Johnny Johnston said part of the development focus needed to be on solid customer service and a reputation for being business-friendly.
“When businesses think of Liberty Hill, they think we are receptive to them, that we want to help and work with them to get their businesses out here, that we’re progressive, that we’re not going to make it so hard on them to get through the process,” he said.
Speed of service when it comes to development timelines was also discussed, with Hall saying the city should have a timetable for developers, and more importantly, be able to meet it.
Spreading the word
Armed with the idea in hand that Liberty Hill has a bright future in terms of economic opportunity, the discussion turned to how that message makes it past the city limits.
“We’re not telling our story,” Board Member Chad Pirtle said when he asked why the EDC did not have a social media presence.
Hall was quick to respond, saying he wanted each board in the city to have a social media presence, and once the city’s new Facebook page was successfully launched that would be a priority.
The City Council voted last month to spend $2,700 to set up, lay the groundwork, and set policies for a city Facebook page.
Everyone agreed that whatever the public perception is of how the city handles development ends up being the reality because that’s the message shared.
“We have to be able to market and sell our city consistently well,” Pirtle said. “Perception is so important, but the perception of Liberty Hill and that image that is portrayed is actually reality.”
One option mentioned by EDC Board Chairman Bill Chapman is bringing back Freach Designs to hone the message for the EDC and help spread the word about development opportunities in Liberty Hill.
“How do we advertise ourselves to the outside world?” Chapman asked. “I’d like to suggest we spend more money on advertising.”