Mixed signals on mixed use zoning proposal


Managing Editor
The City Council was set to consider an ordinance Monday establishing a new zoning district in Liberty Hill. However, mixed signals from one member of the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission regarding the process of moving the ordinance forward stalled action.

The ordinance would have established a mixed use zoning district for the City, something everyone seemed to agree Monday was necessary, but P&Z member Steve Messana took issue with how the ordinance reached the Council for consideration.

Ultimately, the Council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the measure and scheduled a joint workshop with P&Z for Nov. 5 to further discuss the ordinance.

Messana addressed the Council during public comments, adding that he was representing himself and not the P&Z Commission.

“Why would city management take a zoning document created by Mr. (David) Stallworth, using his experience, education and resources, and decide that they know better than him and redact over 50 lines of the ordinance he created,” Messana asked the Council. “What experience does Mayor (Rick) Hall or Lacie Hale have in crafting zoning ordinances? Do they know more than David Stallworth? Have his education? Have his experience? What makes a logistics manager and insurance salesman turned mayor capable of writing city zoning ordinances? What makes a former city secretary capable of writing city ordinances?”

Messana went on to explain he was suspect of the approval process and what he called the effort to push the ordinance quickly through for approval.

“While I do support a mixed use zoning ordinance, I support it only if that ordinance was crafted by an experienced professional,” he said. “I also support proper process. And to this point this ordinance has not gone through the proper process. What’s the hurry?”

The P&Z Commission first received a copy of the original ordinance on Oct. 16 prior to its Oct. 20 meeting. But at the meeting, according to Messana, Commissioners were given a revised and “highly redacted” version that the City recommended for approval.

Messana said the original version was primarily written by Stallworth, the City’s Planning Director, and the altered version was changed prior to the meeting by Hall and new City Administrator Lacie Hale.

A request was made at that meeting to table the issue, but Messana said they were told the Council would be considering it Oct. 26.

The P&Z Commission voted to approve the originally proposed ordinance according to Messana, but that version was not in the Council packet for consideration or discussion at the Oct. 26 meeting.

When the agenda item came up later in the meeting for consideration, Hall opened with the suggestion that a joint workshop be held.

“I think this would be a great opportunity, if the Council feels so, to have a joint workshop with the Planning and Zoning and the Council, to lay out the Council’s expectations for how our city is built,” Hall said.

Council member Gram Lankford asked for clarification on what the P&Z Commission received regarding the proposed ordinance.

“Both the original and the changed version were presented to the P&Z Commission at the last meeting?” asked Lankford.

Hale said yes, that both were presented, but Messana clarified when Commissioners received the two documents.

“They were both presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Messana said. “We were given advanced notice of the original document, the redacted document was presented at the time of the meeting and we were asked to vote on the redacted document.”

Stallworth was not involved at any point in the discussion Monday, but was present at the meeting when the item came up for consideration. He did not respond to questions regarding his role in the process.

Had the ordinance been approved at the Oct. 26 meeting, there would have been only eight days from the first time either draft was considered by any additional staff, the P&Z or Council to the date it was passed.

The initial discussion of what the ordinance should look like originally included five people.

“The initial discussion about mixed use happened four or five weeks ago,” Hall said. “That was a discussion between myself, Lacie (Hale), (city attorney) Tad (Cleaves), and David (Stallworth) and Matt Powell. It was done due to a developer that is looking to come in to Liberty Hill to do a development that would particularly fall in line with a mixed use project.”

The reason for the quick edits, which Hall said he made along with Hale, was because it was received so close to the meeting date.
“It was given to us at the eleventh hour without staff review and then Lacie and myself reviewed this with changes,” Hall said.

He took issue with a number of items in the originally proposed ordinance, citing references to 12-foot-wide sidewalks, bike racks and confusion over the definition of activity centers among other things.

“I’ll say a couple of the items I saw in it, that Lacie and I discussed, I didn’t feel were what was best for the City,” Hall said. “One of them was all hotels must be an extended stay hotel. Why do we want to limit ourselves?”

He did not speak to the process of how the ordinance made its way to the Council or the argument that it was being rushed through for approval. He said it was a joint effort between the Council and P&Z, but emphasized that the P&Z needed guidance on the Council’s wishes.

“The Council (in its decision to hold a joint meeting) felt that maybe we need to help guide the Planning and Zoning Commission on what the Council’s wishes are so they can understand why they’re recommending one thing for review versus coming back to the City Council and the City Council saying this is what we’re going to do,” Hall said.