By SHELLY WILKISON
Members of the City’s Parks & Recreation Board expressed opposition Monday to proposed amendments to the City’s Unified Development Code that would, in effect, loosen restrictions for new developments.
During a public hearing, Liberty Hill City Council members heard comments on the proposed revisions to the UDC, but will not act on the plan before another public hearing is held Feb. 12.
Mary Lyn Jones, who was appointed by the Council to chair the Parks Board, said she is opposed to language that would allow developers to donate less desirable land to the city for use as public parks.
Specifically, she noted proposed changes that would allow a developer’s land donation to be completely in a floodplain, have no water or wastewater access, and reduce required public street frontage from 200 feet to 50 feet.
Jones said she also opposed an amendment that would eliminate the requirement that 50 percent of the dedicated parkland be level, well drained and suitable for use as an open playing field.
“I’ve done some research on the surrounding cities and counties and Liberty Hill is in line with all of those, so I’m really questioning why we want to change what we have,” Jones said.
She said if a developer is permitted to dedicate parkland that is entirely in a floodplain, the value of the land is significantly less. When applying for grants, the land value is important, she said, advocating that it remain at 50 percent or less rather than 100 percent.
“We all know how viable parks are to our community,” added Janet Oliver, who also serves on the Parks Board. “The City should strive to get as much parkland as we can, and at least as much as any other city in our area.
“I believe the changes being proposed do not benefit the citizens of Liberty Hill,” Oliver said. “It appears they benefit the developers. And if I’m wrong, you can explain that to me, but I don’t see that this benefits the city.”
Oliver, who lives inside the city limits, said she doesn’t see a reason to change what’s in place.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to see less parkland or less desirable parkland, such as 100 percent of it being in a floodplain,” she added. “I believe the City has an obligation to provide good parks for future generations.”
Council Member Liz Rundzieher said she agreed “wholeheartedly” with the comments expressed by Jones and Oliver. Council Member Ron Rhea agreed.
In addition to the public hearing, Monday’s agenda included possible action on an ordinance to adopt the amendments. Action on that ordinance was postponed until Feb. 12 after the next public hearing.
But Council Member Jon Branigan, who chairs the UDC Advisory Committee, questioned the delay and the need for another hearing.
His committee, which includes the entire Planning & Zoning Commission, Council Member Wendell McLeod and Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lance Dean, has met periodically since last summer for the purpose of bringing back to Council the changes the committee recommended in 2016. In 2016, the Council adopted most of the advisory committee’s recommendations, but accepted city staff suggestions on several key issues that the committee believed didn’t promote development. When it was discovered that one year later those amendments had not been incorporated into the City’s ordinances online, the advisory committee went back to the table to review them again and voted to send them all back to Council for reconsideration.
“With all due respect, Mayor, we have made notice of every (UDC Advisory Committee) meeting. Everybody had two years to submit comments. And we’re going to spend a whole council meeting going through every item again?” Branigan said. “What I’m hearing you say is on the 12th, we’re going to go through the entire UDC again. We already had a vote and approved it.”
On Nov. 27, 2017, the Council voted 3-2 to adopt the UDC with the changes recommended by the advisory committee. Voting yes were Branigan, McLeod and Troy Whitehead with Rundzieher and Rhea voted no. There was no discussion on the proposed changes at that time. The day following the vote, city staff was informed by their attorney that state law requires a public hearing be held prior to adoption. While notice of Monday’s public hearing was provided to The Independent for publication Jan. 4, City Attorney Dottie Palumbo said 15 days notice of the meeting should have been given as required by law, which is why the hearing is now scheduled Feb. 12.
“Jon, this UDC is for everyone in this community, and I know you guys have worked hard and I appreciate that, but you have to realize that it’s not just your code,” said Fuller. “It’s the code that governs the development of our city and everyone has the right to have input.”
“For two years, we published every meeting,” Branigan said. “If we’re going to do a public hearing at a council meeting and go through all of it…personally, I don’t want to be here from 6 until midnight going through all of it.”
Rhea reminded Branigan that the advisory committee was working at the request of the council.
“The City Council asked the UDC to come up with these recommendations and bring it back for approval. So, yes, you might have had notices (of advisory committee meetings), but in terms of procedures, it has to be approved by city council. The first time it came by, we approved 73 percent of what was there,” Rhea said. “We’re doing it the right way.”
“We’re doing it the way it has to be done by state law and fairness for all in the community,” Fuller added.