P&Z gives nod to gravel parking lots downtown

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By SHELLY WILKISON

The City’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted Monday to recommend that the Council amend the development code allowing for the use of less costly materials in parking lot construction downtown.

The issue was brought to city staff and the Commission by Mayor Connie Fuller, who in recent weeks has been discussing with a downtown business owner the possibility of the City leasing a lot for public parking.

Fuller told the Council Oct. 24 that Chiropractor Jerry Casebolt had agreed to lease the property behind his building to the City for use as a parking lot for $5,000 per year. Although the agreement has not been formally approved by the Council, the City will pay for construction of a gravel-topped parking lot there that could have as many as 40 parking spaces.

Because the City’s current Unified Development Code does not allow for gavel, decomposed granite or pavers as acceptable parking lot materials, a text amendment was considered by the Planning & Zoning Commission this week that would allow those materials to be used in the downtown area only.

P&Z Chair Clyde Davis said he believed every business in Liberty Hill should be eligible for the same exceptions. He said property owners on State Highway 29 should also be able to use less-costly materials when building or repairing parking lots.

“When we discussed this to start with (at a previous P&Z meeting) the majority of P&Z wanted to do this for the whole city, not just for downtown,” Davis said. “When we discussed this before, it was real clear that we wanted it for the whole city.”

“It wasn’t real clear,” Senior Planner Sally McFeron responded.

“We had the request that came from the Mayor for the downtown area only and that’s what we’re presenting here tonight,” McFeron said.

“If we’re going to do it to help people downtown, why wouldn’t we do it to help everyone in the city?” Davis said.

McFeron said using gravel and decomposed granite to construct parking lots downtown would fit in with the vision for the area as outlined in the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

“It fits in terms of the historic nature and keeping the small town look we wanted (for downtown),” she said, adding that the proposed text amendment would still require that construction standards be met in terms of the base and its ability to meet fire codes. The International Fire Code states the construction should be able to withstand 75,000 pounds and include fire lane denotations.

Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln, who was present Tuesday, said a parking lot made of those materials would have to withstand an 86,000-pound ladder truck.

“We also allow signs in some areas to denote fire lane,” he said. “Whatever works to keep the access open for us.”

Davis said on a recent trip to Fredericksburg, he took photos of parking lots at businesses throughout the city and the majority were not paved with asphalt and were not marked with fire lanes.

Lincoln said a fire lane must be within 150 feet of the sides of a structure.

“This is for a worst case scenario, but then it’s too late to find out when have a fire going on that you have no access to it,” Lincoln said.

There was also discussion about how to make a gravel parking lot ADA compliant.

“All of those items can be taken care of through the permitting process and those will be on the shoulders of the owner’s engineer of record for that job to make sure those are done,” said Chris Pezold, a Commission member.

McFeron confirmed that if the Council approves the text amendment to the UDC, existing parking lots will be grandfathered until the property use changes.

“I think most of the newer, bigger businesses aren’t going to be interested in this,” said Commission member David Widmer. “I think we’re getting into a different clientele.”

“The affordable era is gone,” said Pezold, “and any people using granite or gravel now that did it for economic reasons, if they haven’t already, soon they will be prospering to the point where they’ll say, ‘hey we’re going to make that decision now (to pave with asphalt)’. I think everyone coming in (to Liberty Hill) will be more national (businesses).

“Although I like the idea of owner choice, even if we say they’re allowed, I doubt seriously that anyone (businesses on SH 29) would go that direction at this point,” Pezold said.

McFeron confirmed that those businesses that have inquired about locating in Liberty Hill have not expressed a concern about parking lot construction.

Although Davis’ request that the amendment be applicable to businesses outside the downtown area was discussed but was not presented as an agenda item, Davis voted in favor of the recommendation making the vote unanimous.

Commission member Wes Griffin was not present Tuesday.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the issue at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14.

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