New law prompts City fee changes

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

In response to tighter restrictions handed down by the Texas Legislature on the permitting process – including a new 30-day timeline for approval of plats and plans – the Liberty Hill City Council voted Aug. 30 to add a certified planner to the Planning Department and to increase its planning and platting fees.

Support from the Council was unanimous with Council members Gram Lankford and Tony DeYoung absent.

“I don’t want to be the highest one on the board but I don’t want to be the lowest,” Mayor Rick Hall said of the new fee structure. “I want to be in that competitive area. As a growing city, once one major thing hits everything else is going to fall right around us, so we want to be competitive in doing that because the more development we get the tighter that 30-day window is going to seem because instead of doing two or three plans a month we could be doing 20 to 30 plans a month.”

Three new fees were approved, a $250 pre-development meeting fee, a $500 completeness review fee and a site development plan amendment fee of $500. Other costs are set to increase anywhere from around $250 to $750 depending on the fee.

The fees will help cover increased costs for the City when it comes to approving plans and plats.

“We need to stay competitive in order for us to meet the 30-day window the state has set out for us,” Hall said. “In order for us to do that we have to add staff and I don’t want us to just throw staff into it for the sake of throwing staff into it, so we took the previous years data and looked at that to try and project where we need to go to in order for us to be able to afford the staff we need to have.”

The fee changes will be formally adopted through a resolution at the Sept. 9 Council meeting.

From the staff perspective, the new changes just mean some adjustments in how things are done.

“This is just changing the flow of the process for us,” said Planning Director Sally McFeron. “We will now have to take plans and plats, after first comment, to a governing body, and in this instance it will be Planning and Zoning.”

The addition of a certified planner to the staff is intended to help further streamline the new process.

“The reason we’re hiring another planner is because with this new law will come more formality,” McFeron said. “I’m going to have to write pretty extensive reports for P&Z to understand what they’re looking at.”

The new rules will force some adjustments in the process for the Planning Department because plans and plats can no longer go back to developers from the staff, but must go to Planning and Zoning first.

“Now, they have to turn everything in and we’re on a clock,” McFeron said. “Now, instead of me making the comments and sending it back to the developer, now I have to take it to P&Z. Then P&Z is who has to tell me if it is approved, it’s approved with comments or if it’s disapproved with comments. What that does is mean every time they’re going to disapprove with comments because I’m handing them the comments from everyone saying ‘this plan is not ready’. Basically the new law is kind of taking staff out of the back and forth we go through in creating plats and plans.”

The big change in the law is the new 30-day timeline, but McFeron said that will not impact Liberty Hill.

“Our planning department is very efficient and very effective and we can usually turn around plans quickly,” she said. “The timeline is not a concern for me, but I’m changing our process a little bit.”

She said what it means, though, is that plats and plans will have to be perfect when they come through the door.

“That’s why we’ve implemented the fee for a pre-development meeting so I can make sure that fire, our engineers and public works and everyone has the opportunity to give the developer input about their plat or plans,” She said. “Then we’re charging $500 for a completeness review. We’ve already been doing that, it’s in our UDC, so everything that’s happening with the law, the City of Liberty Hill is already all implemented. Now we’re going to have to be more precise and be more conscious about that time frame.”

Part of being more precise is being more thorough on the front end of the process.

“What we’re kind of doing is we’re going to front-load it,” McFeron said. “We’re going to have a very organized pre-development meeting, then we’re going to have a thorough completeness review. So when that plan actually goes for the first review, that plan is hopefully almost perfect.”

Another legislative addition removes a city’s ability to regulate building materials for developers.

“Briefly what it says is that cities cannot regulate building materials for new construction as long as the building material appears in international building code,” said City Attorney Tad Cleaves.

The change does not impact Liberty Hill because the City currently has no building material restrictions, but it means there is no ability later to restrict certain materials later.

Hall said in dealing with developers on making sure they use materials that will make new construction more appealing and add value to the community the emphasis for Liberty Hill will be on how to create incentives to do so.

“There’s nothing that says we can’t create incentives to help incentivize our developers to build something the way we want it,” he said. “We can’t force them to do it, but there’s nothing to say we can’t give them incentive to do it. At the end of the day developers want to do the right thing. It’s their showcase.”

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