Owner pulls request to annex into City



Following a rocky discussion and an unclear amount of support at the noon Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Monday, a property owner pulled his request to have 15 acres downtown annexed and rezoned before the Council could even consider the request that same evening.

Mayor Rick Hall announced at the beginning of the City Council meeting Monday night that the property owner had withdrawn the request.

“I wasn’t able to go to the P&Z meeting to see what was going on, and haven’t had a chance to talk to the developer yet,” Hall later told The Independent. “Right before the Council meeting is when I was advised they wanted to pull the annexation request. Honestly, I don’t know why that decision was made, but I will be reaching out to them to talk and see where their concerns are to see what we have to do to get that back on track for them.”

He added that he did support the request primarily to give the City more influence on what is eventually done with the property.

The property in question, owned by John Avery Jr., is located at 601 Stubblefield, just south of downtown Liberty Hill and situated between Stubblefield and CR 279. The owner wanted the 15 acres to be annexed and rezoned to multifamily 2, but that request raised many questions and concerns among Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members and one City Council member in attendance.

“I feel that at this time we shouldn’t be doing anything of this magnitude in that part of town,” said Council member Kathy Canady during the public hearing. “Until our city planner comes on board I don’t see any reason to be in such a rush on it. We have the mechanism if he does want to go ahead that he will still need us if he wants to do much. I don’t think the time is right for such density down there in my opinion and I’m just once person and one vote, but those are my thoughts on the project.”

The debate among the P&Z members centered on why there was no clear plan spelled out for the property and what impact the new zoning would have on the area.

Engineer Walter Hoysa, attending the meeting on behalf of the property owner, said it was not a given that the density would be the maximum allowed under the requested zoning category, but said it was a request made to open up the most number of possibilities to the developer and to be positioned well for future growth in the area.

“As far as I’m aware this is a long-term hold,” he said. “We have absolutely no plans at this point. We haven’t worked on any site plans, even any site concepts.

“In this part of the county it is easier to work with the City of Liberty Hill than it is to work with the City of Liberty Hill and Williamson County together. We think this is a win-win in that when we figure out what we’re doing and how it is all going to work we are already in the city and we’re doing it while the city is already growing in this area before we get a whole bunch of other development so we can stake our claim.”

According to Hoysa, the plan is to hold the property until the development of Stubblefield Road is completed, something Hall said at the Nov. 25 Council meeting was being planned in conjunction with Williamson County plans to build the middle portion of the SH 29 bypass that would connect RR 1869 to CR 279 on the south side of downtown.

One concern voiced at a previous hearing, as well as by P&Z members, was the number of units that could be on the property if it were rezoned.

Liberty Hill Planning Director Sally McFeron said based on the City’s Unified Development Code (UDC) regulations the maximum number of units that could be built on the property is 192, rather than the 20 per acre number spelled out under the multifamily 2 zoning category.

She added that this request was not approving any particular plan for the property, and there would be many other steps required before it could be developed even if annexed and rezoned.

“This is not site development, it is not coming through to build anything,” McFeron said. “There are several things that would have to happen through site development. Let’s say a developer comes in and wants to put multifamily on that site, the UDC has pieces in there where you’d have to do a traffic impact analysis and developers are required to improve the network system in order to get in and out of their development.”

Without annexing the property, McFeron said the City would lose the opportunity to have much say on issues such as density levels for housing on the property.

“Development can happen in the ETJ,” she said. “The particulars are the City would not be able to control the zoning on that particular property.”

Canady added that the City would have some leverage even if the property was not annexed because Liberty Hill is not required to provide water or sewer

“Any developer that is going to do anything big, they can do anything they want to do, but they may not be able to flush their toilets or wash their dishes,” Canady said. “I think they would have to realize it would behoove them not to plan something immediately if this is going to be a long-term hold until we get our ducks in a row.”

Hoysa was asked by Canady how a delay in the annexation decision would impact the developer and he said he didn’t know if it would.

As skepticism rose, Hoysa was also asked what would happen if there was an effort to approve the annexation and not the zoning request.

“We’ll walk, plain and simple,” Hoysa said.

P&Z Commission Chair Wes Griffin emphasized that the issue at hand was appropriate zoning not what must be done to provide appropriate infrastructure to meet that zoning, which he said would be determined at a point in the development process.

“My feeling is that we’ve gotten a good package here and a good understanding of what’s desired,” Griffin said. “It’s our business to look at chunks that come into the City and decide if we are going to allow them to do what the property owner wants to do as long as it’s within what our general planning is.

“We need to step back and look at it from a higher view because we’re not here approving projects or deciding on the quality of life. We’re deciding on zoning and appropriate zoning or inappropriate zoning. For me it’s more a question of does this group feel like that’s an appropriate use in that part of our community,” he said.

Ultimately, the P&Z decision on whether to recommend approval to the Council came down to a split vote with Josh McGinty and Cheryl New voting against and Wes Griffin and Brian Williams in favor. Steve Messana was not present at the meeting.