By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
In a continuation of their fight to make the City’s development codes less stringent for developers, the Unified Development Code Advisory Committee met Nov. 15 for the first time since a city lawyer went over their proposed changes with a red marker last month.
The committee, which includes the entirety of the Planning & Zoning Commission, accepted some of the edits and alternatives raised by City Attorney Linda Sjogren, but declined others.
“We need to keep Liberty Hill full of liberty,” said committee member Chris Pezold early on. Most of their recommendations, he said, were “just fine the way they were.”
It was decided at a previous meeting of P&Z that the UDC committee would reconvene to go back through the document of their recommended changes. Sjogren was present for the meeting and went over some changes she had made to the committee’s recommendations.
Committee Chair Jon Branigan, who is also a City Council member, said the attorney was “bringing up things that we hadn’t brought up before.”
Committee members agreed with the attorney’s recommendations last week that their proposed use of a two-track regulatory system in the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ), an area extending a half-mile beyond the city limits plus other contiguous territories, should be scrapped.
Their previous recommendations to build on existing language in the UDC referring to “most” and “least” restrictive measures would have allowed developers to pick and choose some regulations between competing city and county building codes.
Branigan and other members agreed that maintaining the existing interlocal agreement with the county, which specifies the city as the sole office for plats, would be simpler and as effective for their purposes.
To that end, Branigan said that he would still desire “less stringent criteria” in most cases with some exceptions, “and that is mainly the roads.”
“If the City is going to inherit these roads [from developers], they need to be a higher standard because we’ll all be stuck paying for those,” he said.
Branigan also said that he expects the results of a drainage study, commissioned by the City earlier this year, might prompt changes to the UDC’s specifications for roads, and show why the lower county standards “are not good for roads in Liberty Hill, from the standpoint of drainage issues in the future.”
County regulations require a bar ditch, but do not require ribbon curbing. This, committee members agreed, is not enough for many spots in Liberty Hill.
“It’s too romantic to think that everyone is going to seek a higher level of development,” said Pezold.
The other most prominent topic at the meeting was the continuing recommendation to create a separate Board of Adjustments, which Branigan said was “more important than the minimum/maximum” issue.
The Board of Adjustments would act as the final authority if a developer has a dispute with the city administration over a particular requirement. Additionally, the Board would have the power to lower any numerical standard by as much as 10 percent.
The Board would also override the City Council.
Sjogren’s alternative was language that, while still allowing for a separate board, was interpreted by some members as allowing more discretion to Council as to when to activate it.
Until the City Council appointed any members, committee member Cheryl New noted, the Council would serve as the Board.
Branigan said that in a conversation with Sjogren, she said that the P&Z would not in any case be able to serve in the capacity as the Board, “for whatever reason.”
Committee member Clyde Davis said that he does not see a need for such a board meeting very often, but that it was nevertheless important.
Pezold, who is a developer, agreed.
“Personally, I haven’t had an issue, but I always think of the worst case scenarios,” he said.
Pezold said that in Austin, where he often does business, “they’ve created so much bureaucracy there that they can’t even keep up with the processes they’ve put in play.”
Another issue of contention with Sjogren’s recommendations was the reinstatement of much of the first section of the UDC, which repeats segments of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Committee member Wes Griffin said that complying with the comprehensive plan was one of his main objections.
The plan represents “more control than a government should have,” Griffin said.
An example he offered was the plan’s insistence that a “small town” appearance be maintained. He said the interpretation and enforcement of this was too arbitrary.
Pezold agreed, and said that these sort of provisions if included should be as specific as possible.
The rest of Sjogren’s edits concerned language and word choice, which the committee accepted.
Among these changes was language that committee members said would make it more clear that the Parks & Recreation Board should serve as an advisory body to the Planning & Zoning Commission. Branigan said that though this has always been the case, “right now they are treated like their own board.”
Relatedly, the Committee voted to keep their recommendations on loosening dedicated parkland requirements for developments.
“Do we really have a shortage of recreational space?” Davis asked.
Going forward, a finalized document with the UDC’s recommendations will be prepared before submission to the City Council sometime in the coming weeks.
The committee members agreed that the UDC should be revisited every year.
“Unlike what they say about the Constitution or the Bible, the UDC is a living document,” said Griffin.