Residents object to Highland Terrace’s high density zone change

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image-28By SHELLY WILKISON

Residents whose property backs up to the proposed Highland Terrace subdivision protested the City’s consideration of a zoning change Tuesday that if finally approved by the City Council would allow the developer to build up to 10 single family homes per acre without a buffer between the two neighborhoods.

Despite the objections, the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend the Council approve the request to rezone the 36-acre Mason tract from Agricultural (AG) to SF-3 or Single Family High Density. Commissioner Patrick Harlow cast the no vote.

After the vote was taken, about 15 people in attendance who were opposed to the zone change, were visibly angry and expressed their frustration to commissioners. City staff asked the group to step outside the council chamber to continue their discussion as it was disrupting the meeting.

The Mason tract, which has frontage along US Highway 183 and is adjacent to the Liberty Hill Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, was annexed into the city limits last month.

The subdivision will have one entrance off Hwy 183 and will contain 160 single family lots with homes priced in the mid to upper $200,000s.

Seven residents of the Twenty-Nine Ranch subdivision, which backs up to the proposed Highland Terrace, addressed the Commission during a public hearing Tuesday. Some asked the City to reject the high density zone request, suggesting that it did not comply with the City’s development manual.

Randal Smith, who addressed the Commission on behalf of his parents whose home on CR 266 backs up to four lots in Highland Terrace, said the large estate lots of Twenty-Nine Ranch are completely opposite from those proposed just over the fenceline.

“This will impact our property values, which could drop 25 percent. We understand it’s important to have growth, but be considerate to (existing) property owners,” Smith said.

City Planning Director Jim Bechtol said staff recommended the zoning change because the proposed use is transitional as the development moves back east from the highly dense Hwy 183.

“This (plan) is actually less dense than what I would expect for its location. It is compatible use,” Bechtol said, adding that there is commercial development to the north of the entrance to the proposed subdivision. There is a forklift serving business there.

“Since this is in the city limits, we can make sure it complies with our ordinances and is compatible with surrounding uses. If it wasn’t in the City, we would have no control,” he said.

“Liberty Hill is a rural area. There should be something in place about creating a buffer zone or green space,” said Lori Gallagher, who added that it was wrong for the rural homes to back up to high density housing. Gallagher said she has livestock on her property and there should be transitional space.

The existing subdivision has only 13 homes that are situated on lots ranging from five to 20 acres. Those along CR 266 and Baker Circle will back up to Highland Terrace.

Some residents opposed the runoff that would make its way onto their properties from the high density housing. Others anticipated there would be an increase in crime and noise, and asked if the City of Liberty Hill was prepared to deal with those increased demands on law enforcement.

Steve Wilson, whose home is on six acres, said the runoff would impact his property. He said he purchased the property 15 years ago and his family enjoys target practicing on weekends.

“My home borders on the back of where eight homes will be,” said Pam Matau. “According to the Liberty Hill development manual, this (Highland Terrace) is not compatible with existing development and community character.

“We’re okay with growth as long as it’s done responsibly,” she said.

“We moved from an area you’re proposing to this,” said Robert Head, whose property will back up to the north side of the subdivision. “I ask you to consider if this was happening in your neighborhood. There’s only a handful of us and we’re fighting big money. You’re jamming something down my throat that I don’t want.”

“We are a small group of people who chose to live there for (rural lifestyle). Now a developer is on our doorstep,” said Ben DeBellis. “If this is allowed to happen now, here, it will be a precedent that (the City) is ignoring the people when they come here (to voice concerns).”

Bechtol said the SF-3 high density zoning permits a range of 4 to 10 single family homes per acre.

Developer Haythem Dawlett, who met with some of the property owners on Tuesday prior to the meeting, said if the City would agree to the zoning change, he would agree to a condition that the subdivision would cap the number of houses per acre at four.

Bechtol cautioned Commissioners against taking a vote that could establish that as a precedent for future developments.

“The City will have same compatibility issue for everything on Hwy 183,” said developer. “I’m not setting the precedent, your comprehensive plan is setting the precedent,” he said.

“Why won’t Liberty Hill step up and develop different types of communities?” suggested DeBellis.

After the meeting, Bechtol explained further why he recommended approval of the zoning change.

He said how one defines transitional use — the transition from one development to another — is subjective. The way he interprets transitional use in the current code makes the plan for Highland Terrace acceptable. “My subjective opinion is that its better than what could have occurred,” he said.

“As the community grows, the rules will get more intense. Right now, we have a liberal code, but months from now, I believe code will get more complicated, there will be more rules,” he said.

Those who protested during Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning meeting are expected to present their case again when the matter comes to the City Council for consideration.

In other matters Tuesday, the Commission approved by a 4-1 vote a preliminary plan for Highland Meadows, a 231-acre subdivision located on State Highway 29 west of Draper Lane.

Bechtol said the neighborhood, which is not in the city limits, will have 670 homes and meets the city’s rules for subdivision. Liberty Hill will provide wastewater service to the municipal utility district that services the subdivision.

No one spoke at the public hearing on the plan for the subdivision, which is expected to break ground in July.

Commissioner Harlow voted no.

Impact Fee Advisory Committee

Acting as an advisory committee, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission discussed with Bechtol and the City’s engineer plans for future growth of the city’s wastewater system.

The meeting, which was convened immediately following adjournment of the Commission’s regular meeting Tuesday, was the first for the panel.

“The purpose is to review our future growth patterns and determine how to serve with wastewater,” Bechtol told Commissioners.

Commissioners approved a service area map that will be used for the study. A land use map will be used to predict future LUEs or households. With that information, the committee will plan future wastewater lines.

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