Commission approves variances, makes more revisions to sign ordinance


Members of the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to grant three variances to developers of a proposed residential neighborhood behind the existing Stonewall Ranch subdivision.

The proposed gated community, The Estate at Stonewall Ranch, which is outside of the city limits but inside the City’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, requested variances from a required tree survey, a provision for connectivity between the new subdivision and the existing Stonewall Ranch, and the length of 750 feet for cul-de-sacs.

With two members absent — Chairman Clyde Davis and Commissioner Sammy Pruett — the panel first voted 3-2 against the variances. However, Commissioner Patrick Harlow changed his no vote to yes after developers assured him that steps had been taken to ensure proper drainage in the area. Also voting yes were Wes Griffin, who chaired the meeting in Davis’ absence, and Chris Pezold. Commissioners Janet Oliver and Bill Soja cast the no votes.

Tim Haynie, an engineer for the project, said developers did not intend to “clear cut” trees, but buyers will be interested in the one-acre lots because of the space. He said it would increase costs and require more time to relocate trees.

While there was little discussion on the connectivity issue, Commissioner Soja questioned the variance request for the length of the cul-de-sacs.

Although the engineer said Williamson County had no objections to the site plan, Soja cited studies showing that longer cul-de-sacs create safety issues.

“Cul-de-sacs have the number one highest rate of accidents involving young children,” he said, explaining that as large vehicles back up to exit, they often overlook children playing or crossing the street.

He also expressed concern about the number of fire hydrants shown on the plans.

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said that because the proposed development is not inside the city limits, he would “take no issue” with the requests as presented.

The Commission’s recommendations to approve the variances now go to the City Council for consideration.

The panel focused most of its attention during Tuesday’s two-hour meeting on changes to the City’s sign ordinance.

The Planning & Zoning Commission is proposing major changes to the ordinance in response to an outcry from local businesses that have complained about permit fees and various restrictions in the existing ordinance.

After the membership of the Commission changed in the fall, the group sent one set of recommended changes to the Council for approval. Those recommendations were sent back to the panel for further review after Council members agreed that some were too vague and needed clarification. The Council set a deadline of Jan. 15 for the proposed changes to be returned.

Although the Commission was split on some of the changes, which were originally recommended by Davis, the proposals are included in a redraft of the ordinance submitted to commissioners by Griffin Tuesday. Other changes suggested by Soja and voted on Tuesday will be included in the final draft that will go to the Council.

Soja and Mrs. Oliver voted no for the second time on a proposal to allow off-premise signs, but the proposal passed 3-2.

“I’m not going to vote for it. As we grow we have more signs and it will be sign overload,” said Mrs. Oliver, who agreed that existing signs should be grandfathered.

“Some businesses need to create revenue. They can put something up if it adheres to the guidelines and they can generate money,” said Pezold, who voted yes.

“That benefits that individual who is making money, but not the community as a whole,” Mrs. Oliver said. “That’s how I’m looking at it — how it impacts the community as a whole.”

While Davis had originally proposed and the Commission approved setting the maximum permit fee at $50, members raised the maximum fee to $100 on Tuesday. With Soja voting no because he said the fee was still too low, others agreed that increasing it to $100 would allow the City to cover the costs of sign permitting and inspections.

Soja attempted at various places in the proposed redraft of the ordinance to insert language to prohibit future billboards along State Highway 29, but did not get the votes needed to include that recommendation to Council.