The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

P&Z Commissioner Kay should apologize or resign

On a personal level, I really like Planning & Zoning Commissioner Timothy Kay. I have enjoyed some illuminating conversations with him not only at P&Z meetings but on those occasions when I have run into him while shopping at the H-E-B. At heart, I think Kay’s a really good fella.

But near the end of last night’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Kay went on a tirade that was embarrassing at best and insulting to the city’s and the commission’s customers at worst. He needs to take the time to either publically apologize at the next P&Z meeting or tender his resignation from the commission.

Kay’s inconsiderate and uncalled for rant stemmed from the fact that P&Z’s Dec. 8 meeting was cancelled at the last possible second due to the lack of a quorum. Only three of the seven commissioners showed up.

"The fact that we did not have a quorum last meeting, we were criticized for that," Kay said from the dias at last night’s meeting. He then related a tragic story of a relative who died of cancer that, while heartbreaking, was totally irrelevant.

‘To have anyone criticize any one of us or all of us for not having a quorum just feels wrong," Kay concluded.

No, Commissioner Kay, it’s not wrong. When you agreed to serve on the Planning & Zoning Commission, you assumed the role, whether you like it or not, whether it’s convenient or not, of a Public Servant.

I’m not saying there’s never a legitimate reason for a commissioner to miss a meeting every now and then and Kay’s excuse certainly seemed more than legitimate. But one commissioner missing a meeting and not having a quorum are two different things entirely and then to say it’s wrong for people to "criticize any one of us or all of us for not having a quorum" is an insult to that public you are supposed to be serving.

Those members of that public who are requesting action from the commissioners are expecting some form of action on those requests when they appear on the agenda. For them to show up to City Hall -- and a few of them I know have driven more than 200 miles to make an appearance -- only to learn just as the meeting is supposed to take place that it has been cancelled for lack of a quorum invites criticism and you better well just accept that fact. To say that these people don’t have the right to criticize the fact that you completely wasted their time is a shameful insult.

After last night’s meeting I overheard a conversation between Planning and Community Development Director Howard J. Koontz and P&Z Commissioner Michelle Christie, both of whom apparently are major hockey buffs. Koontz was telling Christie how he had purchased upgraded Amtrak tickets to ride the train to Dallas to see an NHL game at the American Airlines Center. Imagine how he might feel if, after he had not only purchased the train tickets, but game tickets and made his hotel reservations, that he learned shortly after entering the arena that the game had been cancelled because not enough players showed up to put a complete team on the ice. You think Koontz might be critical? Of course he would. He would have every right to be critical. But not according to Commissioner Kay, who believes the needs of commissioners far outweigh those of the customers and the public the Planning & Zoning Commission is supposed to be serving and representing.

Well, maybe, he doesn’t really believe that. And if that’s the case he should apologize for saying he did. But if he does really believe it, he needs to offer his resignation immediately.

“Please, Pleeeeease, don’t make my city into a city”

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will
–Sam Cooke

Fifty-five years ago, I was a regular commuter between Houston and Austin. At that time, a street called Post Oak Boulevard essentially provided the western border of Houston. East of Post Oak was development, west of it only country, farm and ranch land. To give you some idea, the western side of Interstate Loop 610 runs north and south along the path once occupied by Post Oak Boulevard. If you’re familiar at all with today’s Houston geography you will understand how astonishing that concept is.

Forty-five years ago, I purchased my first house. It was located in a subdivision on the northern edge of Dallas. I could look out my back window and not see another structure. No other homes. No other buildings whatsoever. I felt as though I lived at the edge of the known universe. Today that area looks more like Manhattan than the countryside.

I mention this because people who live in municipalities are going to see those municipalities evolve. It happens. There’s not much you can do to stop it. And the closer you live to the central core of the municipality, the more urbanized it’s going to become. A number of Kyle homeowners learned that truth last night at the Planning & Zoning Commission when the commissioners recommended the City Council approve a zoning change that would make the edges of downtown Kyle look more like … well, the edges of a downtown. And those homeowners didn’t like it one bit. Right now they can look out their back windows and see undeveloped fields and they don’t like the idea that view may transform into one comprised of town homes.

Kyle is going through a major transformation and some residents are going to have to be led through it kicking and screaming. There was a fellow — I’m not making this up — who appeared before Planning & Zoning a couple of weeks ago, when commissioners were considering how to incorporate downtown redevelopment into the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and he told the commissioners downtown shouldn’t be touched, it shouldn’t be redeveloped at all — it should be left just the way it is now. I wanted to get out a copy of Butch Hancock’s song, "Welcome to the Real World Kid."

One of the city’s current major road projects involves extending Marketplace Boulevard through some currently undeveloped lands until it intersects with Burleson Road. This is going to have a major transformative effect on Kyle. In 20 years, possibly as soon as 10, Kyle residents will witness a completely transformed Burleson. The transformation will begin toward the Marketplace end, as commercial development follows along that new pathway. Sooner than many people might want to see, that commercialization will envelope that entire stretch of road, from Kyle Parkway to Center Street. Where today you see homes along Burleson, within 20 years you will see office buildings, mixed-used residential/retail developments, professional office parks. And when the owners of those homes see how much these commercial developers are willing to pay for their property, they are going to be selling their homes faster than you can say "retiring to the French Riviera."

The first step in that long (although probably not long enough for a lot of folks) process began last night when the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-1 (Commissioner Irene Melendez was absent) to recommend the City Council approve changing the zoning on a vacant field adjacent to the Silverado subdivision, a piece of property located at the corner of Live Oak Street and St. Anthony’s Drive, a scant seven-tenths of a mile from City Hall, to allow for the construction of single family town homes. The one dissenting vote was cast by Commissioner Timothy Kay who objected to the project’s density. I hate to break this news on an unsuspecting world, but density and downtown areas are intrinsically linked. It’s kinda like mashed potatoes and gravy. Go to Dallas some time and check out the location of North Dallas High School and ponder the fact that when it was built it was considered way, way out in North Dallas. Also consider Oak Lawn was once though of as a separate town, a place where Dallas residents went for the weekend. Here's a picture of what the foot of Wall Street in Manhattan used to look like in the 1700s. Here it is in the 1800s. Here it is today.

Here’s the plain, unvarnished reality of the situation. If you have chosen to live within a mile radius of a city’s core, if it’s not dense now, expect to find density creeping in very, very soon.

Perhaps City Planning and Community Development Director Howard J. Koontz put it best when he told the commissioners last night "I have been recorded in the past and will continue in the future to advocate for balance, to advocate for a mix of uses throughout the city because the best chance for successful communities comes not from homogeny but from a balance of different uses that can work together." Koontz pointed out the land proposed for the town homes is not only adjacent to the Silverado subdivision, but, in other directions, it borders on property zoned commercial as well as some zoned warehouse/commercial. Thus, putting town homes on the property under discussion, is, according to the city’s Comprehensive Plan "and the terms of sound town planning, appropriate," Koontz said.

People don’t like change. I get that. But "change gon’ come," that change is going to involve density the closer you are to the city’s core and trying to fight it is a losing battle.

In other action last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission:
  • Voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit that clears the way for the construction of a 3,699-square-foot Taco Cabana at I-35 and Kyle Parkway. That means by this time next year, we could be sitting on the restaurant’s patio sipping margaritas and watching all the motorists battle that intersection. And who says you can’t have fun times in Kyle?
  • Voted 5-1 to approve a conditional use permit for the kettle korn wagon on Front Street to alter its front exterior. The lone dissenting vote was cast by chair Mike Rubsam who didn’t care for the proposed design on the structure. "It looks like the circus came to town and never left," he said.
  • Unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Milts BBQ on Center Street, allowing the restaurant to alter its front and western exteriors although there was some question over whether an oversized picture of a cowboy planned for the western exterior was a sign or a mural.
  • Unanimously approved a pair of requests from the developers of a proposed Hampton Inn on Bunton Creek Road, adjacent to the Hays Surgery Center. The first was to permit it to be included among the Authorized Conditional Uses in Kyle’s Ordinances that permit buildings with a height of up to 150 feet (the Hampton Inn will probably be only a third that tall). The second was for a conditional use permit to build the 54,078-square-foot building.

Expect all of the above to be included on the City Council’s Jan. 5 agenda.

The commissioners also agreed to hold its next work session on the Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Statesman story on zero waste diversion is, itself, a diversion

The goal of zero waste diversion is to eliminate landfills
and convert them into clean energy-producing facilities like this

I’m willing to bet my last dollar that the lead story in today’s Austin-American Statesman about zero waste was planted by a public relations firm or possibly even a law firm representing Waste Management. Private waste haulers like Waste Management and the fossil fuels industry, which dominates the Texas and the national political landscape, are opposed to zero waste diversion and their main tactic is to attempt to turn the conversation into one involving the cost of recycling, which is what the Statesman story is all about.

Here’s the bottom line: The goal of zero waste diversion, along with bioreactor technology (which the Statesman story conveniently ignored, along with the concept of Flow Control, also anathema to private waste haulers), is to prolong the life of landfills and, ultimately to completely eliminate the need for landfills. Once achieved, this alone with save consumers untold millions in sanitation collection fees. But the ultimate by-product of zero waste diversion, which is what drives the private waste haulers and the fossil fuels industry up the wall, is that zero waste diversion will provide an extremely low cost alternative energy source.

Bioreactor technology alone has extended the life of McCommas Bluff, the state’s largest landfill, 35 years beyond its original expiration date and provided enough energy to provide low-cost electricity to more than 60,000 homes.

As the name implies, landfills eventually fill up with trash. And when that happens, the government entities or the private companies that operate these facilities have to build another one to handle the trash. Landfills are not only incredibly expensive to construct to meet established environmental standards (as much as $800,000 an acre, according to this study), finding land to accommodate a landfill is a dicey proposition. Thus, they are usually located as far as possible from any population centers, which translates into additional costs to transport the garbage. All these costs are eventually passed down to consumers in what they pay for trash collection. It is estimated that, if things aren’t changed, within 50 years, consumers will pay three times as much for trash collection as they pay for water services.

However, all those problems are solved if you eliminate the need for landfills and that’s the goal of zero waste diversion.

Countries that are members of the European Union are way ahead of us on this subject (as they are way ahead of us on transportation). The EU expects to achieve zero waste diversion in five years. That’s because at least two companies that I am aware of (both German concerns) have developed the technologies to convert trash into energy. And these facilities are being installed where the landfills used to be located. McCommas Bluff sent representatives to visit these German firms five years or so ago and plans to install one of these plants on the site of — and ultimately to replace — the landfill.

There is a catch, however. Huge amounts of trash deposits are required to make these operations economically feasible. That’s the purpose of Flow Control, which directs all collected trash to a single site. Private waste haulers have been fighting Flow Control since its inception (the Supreme Court has actually ruled twice on Flow Control, saying it’s constitutional at landfills operated by municipalities but not constitutional at privately owned landfills). The private haulers have been fighting this for two reasons. The first is obvious: Flow Control would divert product, thus income, from their smaller, independently owned landfills. The larger haulers, like Waste Management, have been the major opponents but their motive is to delay Flow Control until such time as it has developed the same technology as the European firms. They see the huge profit in this energy source and hope, within the next decade at least, be able to bid to build and operate these facilities on various municipal landfills, as well as their own.

So the fossil fuels industry and the private waste haulers will spare no expense at trying to change the subject when it comes to zero waste diversion. They even fund the research of college professors and get them to get their students off the subject. All these companies care about is their profit margins. And they don’t profit by caring about the environment or reducing the cost consumers pay for commodities and services.

Which brings me back to the opportunity the Kyle City Council missed by not addressing these subjects during the presentation by Texas Disposal Systems as Tuesday's meeting.

Friday, December 18, 2015

P&Z to consider town homes next to Silverado, Hampton Inn

In its final meeting of 2015, the Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to decide on a zoning issue that could lead to a townhouse development adjacent to the Silverado subdivision in what is regarded as Kyle’s "historic core," and a waiver of building height limitations leading to the construction of a four-story Hampton Inn on Bunton Creek Road, adjacent to the Hays Surgery Center and directly behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Exxon station complex.

Taco Cabana will also be asking for a conditional use permit apart from its chicken partner to construct a restaurant at Kyle Parkway and I-35, and two downtown businesses, Lone Star delights on Front Street and Milts Pit BBQ on Center Street, will also be seeking conditional use permits to make comparably modest alterations to their existing structures.

The proposed townhouse development will be located on a rather isolated piece of property (actually what are now two separate lots that will be joined) on that part of Live Oak Street where it takes a right dogleg towards Burleson. Its northeastern and northwestern borders will touch residential properties that are part of the Silverado subdivision. According to my strictly unofficial count, 30 residential lots in Silverado, eight of them located on Coit Loop and the rest on San Felipe, will abut the proposed development. The area is currently zoned for single family residential and P&Z will be asked to change that zoning to allow for the construction of "attached single-family structures with a minimum of 1,000 square feet living area, generally referred to as townhouses, at a density no greater than 10 units to the acre." The two properties together comprise 15.3 acres so we’re talking about the possibility of 153 town home units here.

Entrance into the property appears somewhat limited as only a small portion actually fronts Live Oak Blvd., the only road with direct access to the development.

Only one resident, a person identified only as Villalba who lives on Coit Loop, expressed discontent to the city about the proposed project, saying he was "concerned they will become more rental units as opposed to owner-occupied which promotes a lack of commitment to the property."

The request for the zoning change comes from Richard Giberson of Buda, who, on his LinkedIn page, says "I have invested and managed real estate for many years. I am a Relson Gracie BJJ instructor and enjoy teaching and training Martial Arts at least three times a week. I also do Yoga at least twice a week." He also says he has 40 years experience as a manager and owner of "income property."

Hampton Inn seeks to locate a four-story, 82-room hotel at the Bunton Creek Road location and is seeking a waiver because zoning in the area restricts a building’s height to 45 feet and the proposed hotel will be 14 feet higher than that.

The height, however, may not be the issue. Apparently there is some concern about the building’s exterior. According to documents the city staff submitted to commissioners:

"The drawings provided (by Hampton Inn) indicate exterior materials that resemble stone veneer along the first floor, stucco on the exterior walls of floors two through four, and synthetic architectural accents along the soffits and fascia’s (sic); however (and the labeling on the supplied renderings is nearly unintelligible), it appears that the exterior materials will in fact be synthetic Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS). This is arguably not in keeping with the retail services zoning standards found in (the city’s ordinances) … More details can and should be provided to the commission before a recommendation can be reasonably decided upon."

What’s interesting, to me at least, about the Taco Cabana request to construct a 3,071-square-foot restaurant at the northeast corner of Kyle Parkway and I-35 is that there’s no mention of a similar request from Pollo Tropical. The two jointly came before P&Z in October to locate facilities on that corner and have been intrinsically linked until now.

It is also interesting that, according to the city staff’s analysis, "It appears that EIFS is proposed to be the primary exterior building material for this restaurant." And it doesn’t appear that staff has a problem with that.

I’m wondering why EIFS is OK for Taco Cabana, but not for the Hampton Inn. I am prepared to be educated on this apparent contradiction by city Planning Director Howard J. Koontz at Tuesday’s meeting. What more could one person ask three days before Christmas?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I am not a doctor, but I’ve seen actors play them on TV

For personal reasons I chose not to attend Tuesday’s final City Council meeting of the year, but I spent much of today going over the proceedings courtesy of the city’s Granicus system and several items jumped out at me.


Rick Fraumann, director of sales for Texas Disposal System, briefed the council on the current state of the city’s contract with TDS, one of the few highly respected private waste haulers operating these days. I was struck by the fact that not one single council member had any concerns about what’s going to happen in the future and, even more important, the city’s role in determining that future.

Fraumann told the council the TDS landfill, which is located just north of the 45 Toll Road on the corner of Carl Road and Highway 1327, has approximately 25 years of life remaining. I guess the seven members of the Council figure they won’t be in any positions of authority a quarter of a century from now. Either that or they’re thinking that’s just too far in the future for them to think about. But it’s that type of thought processes that trouble me about where this city is heading. We are only dealing with the present or, at most, five years out, and are paying absolutely no regard to our long-term future. I was stunned by the fact that no one asked Fraumann whether TDS officials were planning for life after the closing of its landfill. No one asked if TDS was considering installing a bioreactor to possibly extend the life of the landfill,

But most shocking of all, no one on the council even mentioned the idea of the city instituting a zero waste diversion plan, a plan that would divert virtually all materials from landfills and incinerators. I’m not sure complete waste diversion is feasible — Austin’s plan calls for an 80 percent diversion rate by the year 2040, interestingly enough the year the TDS landfill is set for closing. But European cities are way ahead of us on this. Capannori, Italy, for instance, has earned enough from selling its former "garbage" to recycling plants that its zero waste scheme (now at more than 80 percent diversion) is self-sufficient, and even saved the local city council more than $2.7 million in 2009. The city has plowed that savings back into further waste-reduction efforts. Capannori is likely to achieve zero waste by 2020, which is an overall European Union goal.

So others believe it can be done. The largest landfill in the state of Texas is the McCommas Bluff Landfill, operated by the City of Dallas and, in addition to installing a bioreactor at the landfill in 2008, the city is taking additional steps to convert the landfill into a recycling center, thus achieving close to a 100 percent diversion rate, hopefully, according to the city’s timetable, around 2030, which is 10 years before the expiration date of the TDS landfill.

So there are cities, even here in Texas, even here in Central Texas, that are concerned about the future, particularly the environmental future. I’m disappointed that Kyle doesn’t seem to be one of them. Instead the concerns here seemed to be:

Can we have recycling pickup three times a month and compost pickup only once? (Council member Damon Fogley)

Can we institute a "pay as you throw" system, which at least has a short-term diversion component but is strictly voluntary. (Council member Daphne Tenorio) Such a billing system encourages recycling and composting by charging customers according to the amount of garbage collected from their homes.

Instead of waiting for once-a-year bulk pickup, why can’t customers haul their own bulky items to the landfill? (Mayor Todd Webster). I was somewhat shocked that Fraumann didn’t address this more directly. According to TDS’s website, there is a "Citizens Convenience Center" designed just for that purpose at the landfill, a fact Fraumann never mentioned.


From what I gather by my frequent visits to Facebook, there is a real effort here to encourage Kyle consumers to spend their money (and the sales taxes that go along with it) in stores and with businesses located right here within the city limits. Many of these Facebook postings are made by City Council members.

I thought about that when the Council approved an item to pay Sewer Services of Texas, an outfit out of Conroe, Texas, $21,000 to clean debris, gravel and grit clogging digestors at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. And my thought was this: "Why isn’t there a company closer to home that can provide this kind of service?" Sure, Conroe (2012 population estimated at 61,533) is a little bigger than Kyle, but it seems to me that’s the kind of business that could operate successfully in Kyle and I’m wondering what our business development folks are doing to encourage those kind of start-ups here. I am also wondering how much additional weight the city gives to local businesses when it comes to awarding contracts. I’m hoping it’s considerable. I have asked those types of questions of the city and in return I received a copy of the city’s Purchasing Manual. Truth be told: I haven’t had the opportunity to go through it yet.


City Manager Scott Sellers briefed the council on the effects Open Carry laws will have on operations within Kyle City Hall. He said the city is awaiting an opinion from the Attorney General (I’m assuming he means the AG’s office since the Attorney General hisownself is currently dealing with criminal charges filed against him) on whether, because City Hall also acts as a municipal court, the city is allowed to protect itself from the increasing number of deranged madmen conducting mass shooting sprees, and prohibit people packing heat from entering the building. The law specifically says when meetings that fall under the jurisdiction of the Texas Open Meetings Act or Municipal Court sessions are taking place, no gun-toting individuals will be allowed entry into the building as long as "No guns allowed" signs are posted. The law also says guns are prohibited in buildings in which staff members that support the court are employed. In larger cities, which have their own municipal court buildings, this is not an issue — guns are simply verboten in those. But the issue is multi-use buildings like we have here. According to City Attorney Frank Garza, Gov. Greg Abbott says "yes" as long as a court is not in session. But Garza added "the governor was reminded he is no longer the attorney general and could not interpret the law." He said the Texas Municipal League has informed him the attorney general’s opinion on the matter is expected next month.

It appears Sellers expects the AG to rule the way the NRA wants him to, so he asked the council to amend "our personnel policy to allow the city staff to carry in this facility." I mean, city staff needs to protect themselves against upset pistol-packing citizens, right? Why do I think this can only end badly?

In other action, the council:

  • Approved the nominations of Meghan Murphy, Luke Jackson, Dalton Tristan, Destinee Cabrera and Nate McHale to the Kyle Area Youth Advisory Council. No additional information was provided about the nominees, like where they attend school, their respective ages, but I’m sure they are all fine young adults.
  • Gave final approval to a zoning change along I-35 between Kohler’s Crossing and Kyle Parkway that would permit the construction of an adult book store or a strip club at the location, although the developer swears he only wants to erect a far-less-profitable self storage facility there.
  • At the suggestion of council member Tenorio, discussed the notion of hiring another person to help with billing in the Water Utility Department. Council member Shane Arabie argued the addition could almost pay for itself in increasing the collection of accounts receivable but City Manager Scott Sellers asked the council to wait and measure efficiencies the city was about to put into place and then determine during the fiscal year 2016-17 budget discussions whether such an addition was warranted.
  • Gave significant relief to homeowners who are part of the Bunton Creek Public Improvement District, approving an ordinance that reduces their PID assessment from $2,995 payable over a 30-year period (about $190 a year, including interest) to $1,850 over 20-years ($148.45 annually), Those who already paid the entire higher assessment will be given a refund. In addition, all the penalties assessed homeowners for non-payment under the old rules have been expunged. Like the song says, "It’s just like starting over."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mitchell says he plans to run against Hervol

(Updated Monday to include reaction statements from Mayor Todd Webster, the city staff and Travis Mitchell)
City council candidate Travis Mitchell confirmed today what many observers expected would transpire from the moment he announced his candidacy: He hopes to unseat Place 1 council member Diane Hervol in May’s municipal elections.

Although he admitted he sided more with Hervol on major issues, most notably property tax relief, than his other potential opponent, council member Shane Arabie, Mitchell apparently believes Hervol is more vulnerable because she might not have a campaign infrastructure in place or one ready in time for the primaries.

"She didn’t have an opponent the last time she ran," Mitchell told, by my unofficial count, 19 persons, excluding the candidate and yours truly, who attended a meet-and-greet session with the candidate at a local coffee house. "She hasn’t had to run in a contested race in six years."

He also said the decision to go up against Hervol was "almost a personal one," although he declined to elaborate.

Mitchell said had he been on the council he would have fought to keep the tax rate below 50 cents per $100 valuation. The current rate is $.5848. Hervol was one of only two council members (the other bing Daphne Tenorio) who fought in vain to keep the rate below 50 cents.

He also said had he been on the council he would have opposed the extra money given at the last moment to the Kyle Police Department. He criticized the city for purchasing new vehicles for police officers and then retrofitting them with the necessary equipment, saying the city could save a lot of money buying police cars being discarded by other municipalities.

Mitchell went on to say he would have also opposed issuing the general obligations to pay for all the road projects at the same time. He predicted only four of the five road bond projects will be completed, although he didn’t say which one would not be finished nor did he elaborate on the legal ramifications of only completing four of the five projects.

(Updated material begins here)
Stressing that he was only speaking for himself and not necessarily on behalf of the City Council, Mayor Todd Webster, a major proponent on the road bond construction and issuing all the bonds simultaneously, said:

"The thought of this happening has crossed my mind and I think it is not unreasonable for Mr. Mitchell to have such a concern.  Time is the major factor impacting the budget of all five of the road projects.  The longer it takes for each of the roads to be built, the greater the likelihood that we would be forced to make additional decisions to reduce the scopes of the bond-funded projects.  That is why the City Council made the decision to expedite all five road projects, proceeding simultaneously on them to the extent possible.  We also down-scoped all five of the roads to bring costs down and to more closely align with available bond proceeds because a significant amount of time had elapsed prior to the initiation of engineering and right of way acquisition.  Those decisions were made more than a year ago. 

"Please know that the city staff and our contracted engineers are moving as quickly as they can because they understand the impact that delays may have on the overall costs of each of the roads," the mayor said. "With that said, three of the five roads -- Market Place, Goforth and Bunton -- are progressing more quickly.  I am more confident that these three roads will proceed as planned than I am of the other two - Burleson and Lehman.  Of the two, I believe Burleson is more likely to stay on track and within budget.  As of right now, Lehman is proceeding as planned, but any additional delays related to right-of-way acquisition and increased construction costs on any of the five roads may possibly require additional steps to reduce costs and my opinion is that it is more likely that
Lehman Road would take the brunt of any additional reductions.  If additional reductions become necessary, the City Council will have to decide whether to spend additional funds on these projects, reduce the scope of all or some of them or to significantly reduce the scope of one of the roads, leaving the other four to proceed as currently planned.

"As for selling all of the bonds at once," Webster added, "I think our decision to sell the bonds this summer was as good of decision as we could make based on the information that we had available at the time.  Accessing the bond market involves good timing as weeks, months and years can have a significant impact, positively or negatively, on interest rates.  We did get an excellent rate that was better than what was originally anticipated when the bond election was held.  However,
it is not inconceivable that economic conditions could exist in the future that may have allowed us to have acquired an even better rate.  The opposite could happen too and we would have missed out on the excellent interest rate that we did obtain.  Regardless, I think that it is reasonable to question a decision like this because of the possibility that waiting to sell bonds could result in savings even if there is some risk in doing so.

"While it seems a little early to be responding to campaign discussion topics," the mayor concluded, "I am encouraged by the comments as they are exactly the kind of things that I would expect serious candidates to be thinking about.  It bodes well for having an issue oriented campaign this time around."
A spokesperson for the city said "We have no plans to remove any of the roads from the bond project
and are proceeding as quickly as possible to get them all under construction and completed. Selling all the bonds when we did allowed us to take advantage of low interest rates, which combined with our excellent credit rating, will actually save our tax payers money over the term of the bonds."
(Resuming original post)
Mitchell was somewhat vague on an actual platform, talking about Hedgehog concepts (although when he gave examples from other cities he cited their identities, reputations and branding rather than their focus areas) and what he claims was Kyle’s lack of a Mission Statement. He did say he was a major advocate of downtown revitalization, although again he was short on specifics as well as how such a program would affect downtown homeowners.

Of the two recognized forms of growth, Mitchell favors the orderly but dumb approach over the chaotic but smart one, i.e., the former being the growth model Kyle as well as most other municipalities follow.

Mitchell began his informal session asking attendees what they felt were the major issues facing the city. The top concern, voiced immediately by those in attendance, were the property tax rates, followed in order by utility rates and road conditions.

Mitchell issued a statement Monday in connection with statements he made at Sunday's meeting:

"When I said my decision to run for District 1 was "personal," that had nothing to do with Councilmember Hervol, which I tried to make clear." Mitchell said. "I meant personal to me, because I am very committed to presenting the community with a vision for Kyle, and not about with whom I agree or disagree. That's a fine line, I understand, but I had no intention to even discuss my opponent. I was pressed by a few members at the meeting. Next time I will stand more resolute in my commitment to keep it about the issues.

"My comments about the police department were meant to be general, and not specific," he added. "I used them as an example of a discussion I would have engaged in had I been on the dais deciding last year's budget. It would have been a broad discussion and certainly would not have been about singling out any one department. We have to keep our tax rate down, as I'm sure most of our police force would agree. Our M&O spending has risen significantly this year and, if it was in tandem with a reduced tax rate, that would probably be fine. But as it is our taxes are at a 20-year high, so my point was that, as I run for council, I will look at everything through the lens of getting the rate reduced."

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

It’s that glorious time of year when no one can be bothered with meetings

quo-rum (kwor' em) The minimum number of officers and members of a constituted body who must be present for the valid transaction of business.

Last Thursday, Kyle’s Planning and Zoning Commission, acting in its assigned capacity as five-year fixers of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, held a public meeting during which it planned to solicit citizen input on said plan. Not counting yours truly, three individuals attended. Three. That’s one less the number of the seven-member Planning and Zoning Commission who attended.

Tonight, at the regularly scheduled P&Z meeting, even that number couldn’t be mustered. Only three commissioners — Chairman Michael Rubsam and commissioners Lori Huey and Dex Ellison — made an appearance and Ellison had to drive like a madman from Lakeway, where he’s now the newly appointed branch manager of a credit union location, to make it on time. Rubsam said it was the first time in his years of service on the commission, the board failed to have a quorum.

Several individuals whose cases were on the P&Z agenda were obviously disappointed with the cancellation, but they were assured their pleas will automatically be rolled over to the P&Z’s next regularly scheduled meeting, inconveniently planned for three days before Christmas. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Webster, Wilson work to improve charter changes

Mayor Todd Webster and Mayor Pro Temp David Wilson successfully proposed two major changes to the proposed city charter during last night’s City Council meeting — one, if approved, would increase participation in municipal elections while reducing their costs and another which restored the manner in which council members are remunerated, before the council voted to send the proposed changes to the electorate next May.

Personally speaking, Webster’s and Wilson’s efforts transformed the proposed document from one I could not support to one I can now enthusiastically endorse.

Another significant change made to the document that was recommended by the Charter Review Commission, a change engineered chiefly by council member Daphne Tenorio, would significantly raise the cap on the dollar amount the city could go into debt before requiring voter approval.

The major change was one offered by Wilson, but strongly supported by Webster, to move council elections from May to December, a move designed to increase voter turnout and to save taxpayer dollars. The fact that Wilson offered the change was significant because during the recent council workshop discussion on the proposed charter change, he supported keeping the elections in May. He said he was convinced to move the date to November because the neighboring cities of San Marcos, Buda and Austin hold their municipal elections in November, and because his independent research convinced him the move would increase voter turnout and save the city a minimum of $5,000 a year by eliminating one election. It is interesting to note that in last month’s election, one that had little or no direct bearing on Kyle residents, the turnout here in the city was more than twice as large as it was for the most recent May city council elections.

The change was approved 5-2, with Tenorio and council member Diane Hervol casting the dissenting votes. Interestingly, just prior to the start of the council session, Mayor Webster confided he wasn’t sure he had enough support to get the proposed change passed. Some of the five who voted for the change said they did so not necessarily because the favored the idea of November municipal elections, but because they believed the voters of Kyle should have the opportunity to express their opinions on the idea. Council Member Shane Arabie said after the council meeting that plank in the charter could face rough sledding at the polls and Jo Fenety, the vice chair of the Charter Review Commission and a strong advocate of keeping the elections in May, told me after the council’s decision she would actively campaign to defeat the proposed change. "Expect to see lots of yard signs saying ‘Vote No’," she said as she left the chamber.

The other significant change, also introduced by Wilson, eliminated the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation that "City Council compensation shall be set in a public forum by ordinance of the city council." The council voted 7-0 to keep the council’s compensation the way it is — $200 a month to the mayor and $100 for the remaining council members. Even though all the council members agreed the charter should actually specify council compensation, Webster and council member Shane Arabie said after the meeting the level of compensation is going to be revisited as the city grows.

The Charter Review Commission recommended restricting the amount the city could go into debt without voter approval to 10 percent of the city’s annual tax revenues. But Finance Director Perwez Moheet told the council that because the city’s annual tax revenues are $1.5 million, that would mean the city would need approval for every proposed indebtedness of $115,000 or more, which is impractical. Initially, Mayor Webster seemed inclined to scrap the entire idea of a cap, but Tenorio successfully argued some kind of limit was necessary and after some back-and-fort negotiations over various percentages, it was finally decided the cap should be 5 percent of the city’s total assessed tax valuations, which puts the ceiling currently at $80 million. This provision has no effect on the issuance of General Obligation bonds, such as those recently issued for the Kyle road projects, all of which need voter approval before they can be sold, regardless of the amount.

There was also some disagreement about a proposed change to Section 4.03 (a) of the charter. The Review Commission voted to strike language saying the dismissal of the city’s finance director would have to be confirmed by a majority vote of the council. Tenorio and Hervol wanted to restore that language, but the other five council members prevailed, arguing that if the city manager has the sole authority to hire someone he or she should also have the sole authority to dismiss that individual.

The Charter Review Commission recommended removing reasons not bringing proposed ordinances back for a second reading, but the council disagreed with the commission and decided to keep the language in that section unchanged.

The city’s attorney said he planned to have an ordinance on the charter changes ready for the council’s approval no later than the first week in January so that the language can be placed on an election ballot in May.

In other action last night:
  • Sylvia Gallo, the organizer of the November music festival designed to raise money for various veterans groups, told the council how much she appreciated the city’s support of her endeavor although she noticeably, at least to me, failed to mention how much, if any, funds were raised for the benefit of veterans,
  • The council unanimously approved the nominations of Lourdes Cervantes, an elementary school librarian since 2002 and 15-year resident of Kyle, and C. Matthew Bonhamgregory, a fifth grade math and science teacher at Buda Elementary and a seven-year Kyle resident, to the Library Board. The council took time to commend board Chair Dr. Anita Perez in her efforts to recruit "quality" candidates for the board.
  • The council hesitatingly decided to pursue the idea of asking Hays County for assistance in the city’s efforts in the post-Halloween flood remediation on its storm drains, although many were skeptical about just what assistance the county might provide as well as the quality of that assistance.
  • Assistant City Manager James Earp announced that persons whose homes were damaged during the Halloween floods are now eligible for FEMA reimbursement "if they are uninsured whether they’re in the city or outside the city." Earp said FEMA would be opening assistance centers locally beginning today. "The closest one to the folks in our area," Earp said, "will be located at the Precinct 2 offices over on Jack C. Hays Trail between the Barton Middle School and the storage area on the other side." He said the center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday "and they’ll keep hours Mondays through Saturdays as long as they need to — as long as people keep coming in asking for assistance."
  • The council, without explanation, voted 5-2 to cast all 216 of the city’s votes for the Hays County Appraisal District’s board of directors for Hays County Tax Assessor-Collector Luanne Caraway. These 216 votes are part of 7,000 possible votes that could be cast with the largest share, 1,679 votes, belonging to the Hays Independent School District. The city had a choice of eight different candidates who are vying for seven vacant positions on the board.
  • A new, but unfortunately accurate, mantra was unveiled for the city’s development efforts when Wilson, in supporting creating a warehouse district on prime real estate along southbound I-35, said "We want the best that we can get. If the best we can get is warehouse, I’m happy to oblige." The motion to create the district, which will generate little if any sales tax revenue for the city, passed 6-0. Interestingly, although during a discussion about a similar zoning change a month ago some city council members raised the point that warehouse zoning permitted sexually oriented businesses, no one on the council mentioned the possibility of an adult video store or a strip joint could wind up greeting newcomers to Kyle on I-35. Just saying.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kyle PD can now hire felons

(Updated Wednesday at 10:48 p.m.)
A comment was made in response to this article by someone who identified himself as "TWebster," a name strikingly close to that of Mayor Todd Webster. However, I knew by the tone of the comment it was not written by the mayor and although I had grave misgivings about adding it to the comments section, I ultimately decided to do so under the Freedom of Speech principle. However, more than one person has expressed concern that this comment was posted by someone deliberately intending to discredit the mayor, as well as the police chief, and I a reserve the exclusive right on this blog to take that kind of an attitude. Therefore, I have made the decision to delete the comment. If the author of the comment wishes to more completely identify himself or herself, I will be more than happy to repost the comment.

(Original Post)
Being an admitted felon is no longer an automatic disqualification from serving as a member of the Kyle Police Department. At the request of Chief Jeff Barnett, the city’s Civil Service Commission voted unanimously last night to make a slight change to its rules and regulations, substituting the word "may" for the word "shall," so that the rules now state "Conviction of or admission to conduct that constitutes a felony may result in permanent disqualification from being considered for employment."

Now don’t go thinking the Kyle PD is going to be setting up a recruiting booth at the Big House in Huntsville. We’re talking more along the lines of "childish pranks" and "youthful indiscretions," not persons convicted of violent crimes. Pete Krug, the chair of the Civil Service Commission, said the board made the change solely to allow "an investigator more leeway in the police officer hiring process." Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix told me Barnett requested the change and Barnett said in a written statement:

"The police department strives to hire well-qualified employees to serve in the police department. Inasmuch, we conduct the TCOLE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement) and/or TCIC (Texas Crime Information Center)/NCIC (National Crime Information Center) access required background investigations on all applicable employees. Regarding police officer applicants in this process, we are bound to follow TCOLE rules, Civil Service laws, as well as any locally adopted rules and meet and confer agreements.

"We regularly review our rules and M&C agreement, and on occasion, we ask for clarifications or changes to be considered. One such recent example is the locally adopted Civil Service Rule regarding the conduct of an applicant. Particularly in section 143.023, Section 3(f), the police department, the rule states that an applicant ‘shall’ be permanently disqualified if they have a conviction or ‘admission’ of a felony offense. There has been discussion about what constitutes ‘admission’ of a felony offense. Does that mean admission in a formal legal proceeding, or simply admission to anyone at any time? Discussion then expanded to conduct committed as a juvenile, conduct committed 10 and 20 years, ago, conducted potentially felonious committed while acting in an authorized government operation (i.e. military, law enforcement, directed to do so under duress, and so forth). With these and other examples in mind, it became apparent that the ‘admission’ of conduct should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis based upon the totality of the circumstances.

"It is with this in mind that we asked the Civil Service Commission to consider a change from the word ‘shall’ to the new word of ‘may’ so that actions may be judged upon a totality of the circumstances. The conviction portion is already regulated by TCOLE; therefore, we are not allowed, nor are we trying to change a rule to allow the hiring of a police officer that has been convicted of a felony. Convicted felons are not allowed to obtain a license as a police officer from TCOLE and are prohibited from access to law enforcement restricted computerized files. Again, we are not trying to make allowances to hire convicted felons, only to allow for the actions of a person that ‘admits’ to previous felonious conduct to be considered for employment based upon the totality of the circumstances surrounding that conduct."

Chief Barnett cited two examples of admitted felons he might consider hiring:

"A 17-year-old sneaks out of the house and takes the parents' car to joy ride or go visit a friend without permission. The parents call the police when they notice their son and car missing. He is located by police hours later while driving home. The parents choose not to file any charges and the matter is handled by the parents. Technically, this action constitutes Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle — a felony. Twenty two years later, this person is now 39 years old, has completed a full career and is an honorably (discharged) veteran of U.S. military. He applies with us and admits the action when he was 17. The ‘shall’ rule would have disqualified this applicant because of his youthful indiscretion.

"A 16-year-old pulls a fire alarm at school on a dare," Barnett said in his second example. "She is now a 15-year veteran of another police department and is relocating to the area because her husband was transferred to the local office of a federal law enforcement agency. Everything else is impeccable in her background and she is now the mother of two children, 35 years old, and the recipient of several police departmental awards at her current agency. The ‘shall’ rule would have disqualified this applicant because of her youthful indiscretion."

Barnett said he wanted to be absolutely clear about one point.

"We do not condone the actions mentioned in these examples, and nothing is intended to imply that these actions would, when taken into consideration for employment purposes, be permissible," the chief said. "These examples are intended to highlight the types of possible backgrounds that would have been automatically disqualified from consideration prior to the change in the rule. There are many more examples that could be mentioned, but I believe this will relay the intent of the requested change."

Monday, November 30, 2015

The six areas Planning & Zoning want addressed at Thursday's public forum

I would argue if there is only one city meeting that you should attend for the rest of the year, this one is it.

The Planning & Zoning Commission is looking into what sections of the city’s Comprehensive Plan need to be modified and it is conducting a special workshop beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the City Council chambers to solicit the public’s input. Specifically, the commissioners have six areas they want attendees to address. In order to better prepare possible participants for this meeting, here are those areas. You are free to come to the meeting with your responses already written and ready to submit.

1. Future land use addresses the public’s vision to shape and direct the City’s growth. What suggestions or comments can you provide regarding this element of the plan? Please indicate the specific geographic areas of town where you feel this type of growth should take place.

2. Open spaces protect the quality of citizens’ lives by utilizing available space while protecting our environmental heritage. What comments or suggestions can you provide regarding the future of undeveloped or sensitive areas in Kyle?

3. Public facilities include police and fire stations, recreational facilities and public works facilities responsible for city maintenance. Please give us your comments, suggestions and locations for the future of this plan element.

4. Transportation is a key element of the Comprehensive Plan and a transportation analysis for Kyle is currently underway. What additional suggestions or comments can you make regarding this critical plan element?

5. Urban design refers to a visual framework for public and private improvement during growth and promotes connectivity between established regions and new growth areas. What suggestions or comments can you offer about where urban growth should occur and your thoughts about preserving the Kyle area?

6. Revitalization of the downtown region is a challenging but vital part of the Comprehensive Plan. Please share your thoughts and visions for bringing new life to this specific region of our city.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

First impressions redux (the uglies are baaack!!)

Back in April I wrote about how first impressions can shape someone’s entire view of a community and that, because I-35 is the main entrance to and from Kyle, what motorists see along I-35 on their initial drive-through could determine what they thought of the entire city.

I raised this point because there was an item on the City Council agenda back then to rezone a parcel of land along the west side of I-35 between Kohler’s Crossing and Kyle Parkway, a prime piece of real-estate, the perfect spot for a nice hotel or a trendy mix-used development with more independent small business shopping outlets topped by two or more floors of an office building and perhaps even something like an Alamo Drafthouse. Realistically, all that wouldn’t fit in the parcel, but the nice four-to-five story boutique hotel would. The developers of the property don’t intend to put in a mixed-use development, an entertainment area, a handsomely landscaped office building or even a hotel, however. No, they want to use it to locate a self-storage facility.

The item was tabled when it came up in April, but it’s back on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. I hope there is enough leadership on the council — enough council members with vision — to see that this doesn’t happen, that our city is better than this, that it should look better than this, that it should offer first impressions that are, let’s say more impressionable, than self-storage units.

Back then I wrote, "Here’s a recommendation for the city: Form an I-35 Corridor Task Force comprised of business leaders, property owners, and homeowners and give them six months to develop a vision and provide recommendations in order to guide future policy and public investment along the I-35 corridor. The study should examine future possible land development scenarios and their potential impact to the transportation network." I believe such a study was important to our future then and I believe it today, as well.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed the council will do the right thing or perhaps even the application will be withdrawn before it comes up for a vote. Watch this space.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Can you envision a Hilton Hotel in Kyle?

The consultants hired by the City of Kyle to evaluate whether the city could feasibly be the location of a major hotel has said a full-service 150-room hotel with 13,500 square feet of meeting space would be a perfect fit.

"We believe a 150-room Upper Upscale, full-service hotel (Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, or similar variation) would successfully meet the needs within the Kyle market area while conservatively planning for future growth in the city," according to the report prepared by Stone Hospitality & Real Estate. "We have recommended approximately 13,500 square feet of meeting space (roughly 90 square feet per room). This figure stems from comparable properties in similar locations and intelligence collected from experienced industry professionals who recommend 70 to 100 square feet of hotel meeting space for every hotel room."

The report is interesting because it seems to me that it relies more on what’s happening in Austin than the current realities of Kyle. For example, the report says: "While the Greater Austin hotel market has enjoyed one of the greatest booms of new hotel supply in recent history, there continues to be absorption of the new inventory; however, we do not expect this trend to continue much longer. For this and other reasons, we are recommending a full-service hotel with 150-rooms. This is not to say that other types of hotel inventory would not work or will not be developed, but that our ‘best’ choice is as presented here."

That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for locating a Hilton-type facility here, but you can decide for yourself by reading the report in its entirely.

The recently announced Comfort Inn, to be constructed behind the Target Store, does not qualify as an "Upper Upscale, full-service hotel," in the Stone analysis. It said the Average Daily Room rate at the hotel it recommends to be located here should be $137.25, based on a 2017 opening. The average ADR at the Comfort Inn ranges from $70 to $95.

Although Stone did not recommend a specific site for the hotel, it was strongly suggested it should be plainly visible from I-35.

"There is a certain degree of intuitive support for a full-service hotel in Kyle," Stone reported. "Occupancies in the competitive market indicate that properties are already highly occupied on Monday through Saturday resulting in the need for additional full-service rooms to accommodate any new business to the area."

Again, you could read the entire report right here.

Importance of newly appointed KPD juvenile officer

The announcement that Kyle Police patrol officer Dago Pates would become the department’s first-ever full-time Juvenile Officer was made a little more than a week ago but I waited to write about it until I could get my hands on figures relating to juvenile crime in the city.

Juvenile Officer Dago Pates
It turns out the number of criminal offenses in which juveniles were suspected increased from 109 in 2013 to 117 last year. It appears that number will go down this year as only 77 such cases have been reported. But here are some interesting numbers from the other side of that coin. Last year 55 juveniles, defined as individuals between the ages of 10 and 17, were victims of criminal activities and that number is 49 so far this year. And since those numbers normally spike during the holiday season, it’s very possible Kyle could easily surpass 2014's figures.

"Our goal will be to provide intervention to juveniles on both lists (perpetrators as well as victims)," Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett wrote to me in an e-mail on this subject. "Intervention and deterrence from behavior and activities that can lead a young person towards a path of adult criminal activity are the focus of the grant. We will coordinate with and utilize all of our wonderful partner organizations in Hays County, as well as our in-house Victims Services Coordinator and Mental Health Officers to provide all of the assistance that we can offer to juveniles that need our help."

The grant Chief Barnett referred to was one the Kyle PD received from the Office of the Governor which is being used to fund the position of Juvenile Officer.

In the official announcement of Pates’s appointment, Barnett said the juvenile officer’s position eventually will have a deterring effect.

"He will work with our local schools and community organizations to identify youth from the Kyle community who need help and guidance to make good choices about their behavior," Barnett was quoted as saying.

Pates has been with the police department since 2009 and has a history of working with at-risk young people, having, for example, spoken to students at the Gary Job Corps Center, where Pates himself graduated from in 2006.

Mitchell Motorsports owner plans City Council run

(Updated at 5:45 p.m. to reflect the response I received from Council member Diane Hervol.)

Travis Mitchell, the owner of Mitchell Motorsports, a self-proclaimed "family-owned and operated trike, motorcycle, atv/utv, auto and outdoor power dealer." announced today he is running for the Kyle City Council in May.

Travis Mitchell
Mitchell faces an uphill battle because he is likely to face an entrenched incumbent regardless of which place he runs for. Mitchell said he has yet to make that decision. But if they decide to run for re-election, and I believe both intend to, Mitchell would have to face either Diane Hervol, who didn’t even have an opponent in her bid for a second term three years ago, or Shane Arabie, who won a convincing runoff victory in 2014 with 73 percent of the vote when he ran in 2014 to fill the unexpired term of Chad Benninghoff. Both Arabie’s and Hervol’s districts are at-large ones. Mitchell lives in District 2 which is represented by Becky Selbera, Her term expires in 2017, but she is the subject of a recall effort.

Neither Arabie nor Hervol have responded to my requests for their reaction to Mitchell’s announcement.

(Update at 5:45 p.m.) Ms Hervol did respond and told me she is "definitely planning to run for re-election in May.  I will make my formal announcement in the future when I feel the time is appropriate.

"I think it is very important to have as many people as possible to become involved in the future of our city," Ms. Hervol added. "I would hope that other citizens will announce their candidacy in the months to come."

I am still awaiting to hear from Arabie. 

(Back to the original post)
"I am running for city council because I believe Kyle’s best days are ahead," Mitchell said in a statement that appeared today on his blog. "I want to help lead our town by working with the mayor, the council, the city staff, our committees, and most importantly our businesses and citizens, to help realize that belief.

"I am also running because I want the opportunity to help influence the culture of this town," he said. "In many ways Kyle is fractured. So many of our citizens are indifferent to politics and isolated from community. They live here but do not call Kyle home. I want to push the needle forward by leading and inspiring the indifferent to become involved."

Mitchell did not go into specifics about how he plans to create more citizen involvement, but promised he would share these strategies in the future.

Mitchell said he has named Brandy Kothmann of Kyle as his campaign treasurer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Where have all the NIMBYs Gone?

I guess it should come as no shock to me any longer that people in Kyle don’t care about what’s going on in their town, yet I have to admit I was surprised that the NIMBYs (the "Not in My Back Yard" folks, for those who may not be familiar with this acronym) did not show up to last night’s City Council meeting. The subject was low-cost affordable multi-family housing and wherever I have roamed across this great country of ours that subject has drawn the NIMBYs like vultures to a carcass whenever the subject comes up in a public forum. Not that they object to low-cost affordable apartment complexes, they will tell you, but, "look we have our property values to protect." To be honest, I have absolutely no sympathy for these bigots. Never have. Never will. But I know they are out there, especially here in Texas, whose citizens elected. as the last couple of days have proved, a governor who is one of the major bigoted NIMBYs on the planet.

So, last Friday evening, when I spotted an item on last night’s agenda involving plans for such an apartment complex in Plum Creek, I was expecting the NIMBYs out in full force. But they didn’t show. Not a one of them. I’m a big enough cynic (sorry, it’s part of the job description) to believe the absence of the NIMBYs last night was noy a sign of tolerance on the part of Kyle citizens in general and the homeowners on Plum Creek in particular, but of the general malaise on the part of the local populace when it comes to the subject of city government and the actions of city leaders here. After all, in a city where only 4 percent of the registered voters go to all the trouble to vote once a year in a City Council election, should I really expect angry hordes to storm Kyle’s government center over something as trivial as an apartment complex on Kohlers Crossing? Yet, when this subject came up during a conversation with JJ Velasquez, a writer/reporter for Community Impact, he said such an item had citizens foaming at the mouth during at least one Buda City Council meeting.

But last night? Nada. Not a peep. No NIMBYs. Perhaps they were smart enough to realize that last night’s agenda item had nothing whatsoever to do with whether this apartment complex will actually be constructed between the clubhouse for the Plum Creek Golf Course and Kohler’s Crossing and everything to do with the desires of the developers, an outfit called Pedcor out of Carmel, Ind., to secure state tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. However, Pedcor is not seeking the highly competitive 9 percent housing tax credits, but the non-competitive 4 percent credits, which, according to the TDHCA, is "one of the primary means of directing private capital toward the development and preservation of affordable rental housing for low-income households." This means the odds the apartments will become a reality is about 100 times greater than they would be if Pedcor wanted the 9 percent credits. In fact, Pedcor Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Phillip J. Stoffregen told me last night he witnessed with great interest a presentation during the City Council session in which Wells Fargo contributed $1,000 to the Kyle Police Officers Association and said he planned to meet with officials from that bank as soon as possible to explore their interest in the tax exempt bonds that would fund the construction. Finally, although Pedcor is a relatively new entrant into the low-cost housing market in Texas, they already own and operate this complex in south Austin.

One of the nice things to have in your back pocket when you come to the TDHCA seeking the credits is a note from the town where you plan to build them that they, at the least, don’t object to the plans and, at best, actually endorse them. What Pedcor received last night was the latter, an unanimous vote of confidence and support from the council. Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson even went so far as to thank Pedcor for planning to construct units that, on paper at least, look real pretty.

And, if I read the city’s most current zoning map correctly, the spot where Pedcor plans to build the apartments is already zoned for apartments so it’s doubtful Pedcor will even have to go before the Planning & Zoning Commission until much later in the site process, if it all. Which eliminates another opportunity for the NIMBYs. But, if they are really out there (and I suspect they are, lurking somewhere quietly in the shadows, ready to pounce), they can’t say they didn’t have a chance to make their "me-first-and-only" voices heard.

In other action last night, the City Council:
  • Completely ignored the pleas from Madonna Hays, who lives at the senior apartments on Cromwell Drive, relies on public transportation and claimed she would no longer afford that transportation if Kyle severed its relationship with Cap Metro and, instead, granted a franchise to Buda Taxi, owned by Ivan Castellon, a good buddy of most of those on the council. "Unfortunately, most of the people that use the (Cap Metro) service can not afford Buda Taxi," Hays said. "They charge $10 just to get into the vehicle. I personally can not afford to use the taxi company and I don’t think anyone else would. I’m very, very disappointed that the City of Kyle said there was nothing they could do, that they could not come up with another transportation source for us. The City of Buda can have a senior transportation service three days a week, so I think the City of Kyle should be able to come up with something." Hays said she knew of one woman who depends on the Cap Metro service three times a week for her kidney dialysis "and I don’t know what that woman is going to do. It’s sad that we’re going to be losing a transportation service we’ve had for years. I just want to encourage the council to come up with some kind of transportation service for us. We need it. I, personally, cannot walk to the grocery store. I’m disabled and I’m a senior." Of course, what Hays, I suppose, failed to realize, is that she was pleading to a group of people who do not have to rely on public transportation — probably never have and never will — and have absolutely no empathy for those that do. All they are interested in is rewarding their buddies — not lifting a hand for those in need — which is why the council voted unanimously to award the franchise to their dear friend Castellon.
  • Decided the oral health of Kyle residents was not worth the cost, the hassle and the possible risks that could be involved in correcting the action that the climate-change-denying, tea-partying, right-wingnuts in San Marcos took when they ignored the recommendations of the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association and every other health advocate by voting to discontinue fluoridating the water supply that also serves Kyle. Of course, on the other side of the argument, a lot of dentists will get richer by this act of neglect.
  • Put their stamp of approval of the agreement between the city and the Dahlstrom Family that some involved in the process still have hopes will eventually lead to the annexation of a comparatively upscale planned subdivision northwest of Mountain City.
  • Unanimously approved the manufactured housing and the Goforth Road warehouse zoning requests recommended for approval last week by the Planning & Zoning Commission.
  • Was told the city doesn’t have the proper telephone equipment or the number of personnel needed to institute a system in which water customers could have their water bill due dates spread out. Currently, all water bill payments are due into the city on the same day each month.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A conversation with the city about the house of cards known as the Dahlstrom deal

The Dahlstrom land reflects many aquifer recharge features, including this cave.

Item 33 of tonight’s City Council agenda states: "Consider and possible action in regards to an Agreement between the City of Kyle, Texas and the Dahlstrom Family regarding the Consensual Release of Extraterritorial Jurisdiction from Dripping Springs to the City of Kyle." This aroused my curiosity because I was wondering why the city was so anxious to have in its jurisdiction a huge swath of land that could not be developed because it was under a conservation easement. So I approached Assistant City Manager James Earp, who was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule this morning to talk about the deal and he says it all has to do with "connectivity." There is a subdivision, called Anthem, planned for property in Mountain City’s ETJ. The problem is getting water to the homes planned there. Originally the water was supposed to come from wells drilled by a company called Electro-Purification (EP) out of Houston, but that deal collapsed for reasons too complicated to go into here. Kyle said it would provide the water if Mountain City gave the ETJ to Kyle (this provision is contained in something called an Interlocal Agreement [ILA], which also contains a lot more provisions than merely the land for water swap). I call the Dahlstrom agreement a "house of cards," because everything is precipitated on Kyle absorbing land that is currently in Mountain City’s jurisdiction — land, if I read the tea leaves correctly, Mountain City has no plans on surrendering to Kyle.

Regardless, what follows is the transcript of my conversation with the assistant city manager.

Kyle Report: Why does the city want this property?

Earp: So this is the first step in multiple steps of the strategic process to get to the Anthem property, the Anthem property being Clark Wilson’s project that’s on the northwest side of Mountain City. That was one of the key players that was going to be in the EP water deal. We were approached and asked if we would provide utility services to that project so that they would not have to be a partner in EP. We said we would, but Anthem would have to be in our jurisdiction. So, in order to get to that property, we have to connect to it. Currently, we don’t connect either north or south. Although it looks (on a map of the region) like we connect with the Anthem property on the south, we really don’t because Mountain City needs to keep a strip in order to maintain connectivity (to other parts of its ETJ). So that gives us a barrier on the south that we couldn’t punch through. So the only option then was to come from the north. So we approached the property owners (on Anthem’s northern border), the Dahlstroms, and asked them if they would be willing to give us enough property to connect there and thus bring (Anthem) into our jurisdiction. The Dahlstroms’ property goes all the way north to 967 and essentially their response was they wanted to be a partner in helping EP not be a thing, but they weren’t interested in splitting their property into multiple jurisdictions. So they needed time to consider whether they wanted to release all of their property or not. So this is the first step in that process. The Dahlstroms have to agree to release the properties. In order for them to agree to request the release the properties from Dripping Springs, whose ETJ they are in, they wanted assurances from Kyle, which is what this agreement is. Once we get this agreement in place, then the next step would be to go to Dripping Springs with this agreement and a letter of request from the Dahlstroms to be released. Plus a letter from Kyle saying we’ll accept it. And ask Dripping Springs to release the ETJ. If that occurs, we will take that ETJ area and then we will be contiguous with the Anthem property. Then we move into the Mountain City phase where we do the agreement with Mountain City and Mountain City ultimately releases the Anthem project to us. We accept it and now it’s fully within our jurisdiction. That’s why we want the property.

KR: You’re assuming, however, Mountain City will approve the ILA. My interpretation of the recent Mountain City election results is that Mountain City is firmly against agreeing to the ILA. So isn’t all of this unnecessary?

Earp: No, it’s not, because we can’t get to that to that ILA without all these other steps.

KR: What happens if Mountain City doesn’t agree to the ILA? Where does that leave you?

The scenic Dahlstrom Ranch property
Earp: That doesn’t leave us anywhere. We still have done the process we needed to do. The (Anthem) property is going to develop one way or the other. It’s either going to be a MUD or it’s going to be on city utilities. There are a lot of reasons why it is more beneficial for it to be on city utilities. If that property develops as a MUD, there will be a wastewater treatment plant on that property. The Anthem project will have to have its own wastewater treatment plant. That’s a big thing, having a wastewater treatment plant built there. Right now, Onion Creek, which flows through there, would probably be the area that it drains into and that is not something many people on the Onion Creek want to see.

KR: So the City of Kyle has no plans to build a wastewater treatment plant on the west side of I-35?

Earp: We don’t have plans. I suppose that is something that will happen some time in the future, but for the Blanco basin. We plan to connect Anthem to our current wastewater treatment plant.

KR: Do you plan to run any utilities through the Dahlstrom property?

Earp: No. We can’t annex the (Anthem) property and we can’t serve it in our jurisdiction if we don’t connect to it. So we have to connect our ETJ, but not our utilities. Our utilities are either going to run by the (Hays) high school or down by the (Barton) middle school — these two areas are how we’re going to get back to the property. Or we can come up 150 if we have to.

KR: Do you have any additional plans for the Dahlstrom property?

Earp: Yes. So the Dahlstrom property is under a conservation easement so our intent is to market it and show it off and get the word out. It will be opening up, hopefully with their partnership with Hays County as soon as next year. The family wants to be careful about saying it is opening to the public because it’s controlled about how many people can be on the property at any given point in time. But it will be open as a park with some trails and some facilities.

KR: Are you referring to that 384-acre portion the county has already designated as a park in the northwest corner of the property or the entire ranch?

Earp: No, they are not going to open the entire ranch because the Onion Creek splits it in half. So they’re not going to have a way to get across the Onion Creek. Plus, part of the southern part of the property is under lease to Centex Materials. But to my knowledge — and I don’t want to mislead the public, because I don’t know all the details — I know there’s a plan for the northern part of the ranch off of 967. They already have plans with the county that they are working on. My understanding is they hope to be open by the first of the year or the middle of next year.

KR: Were you aware that even as we speak the Hays County Commissioners Court has on its agenda this morning an item to "execute an agreement with Plateau Land and Wildlife Management in the amount of $8,085 for a wildlife management plan for the Dahlstrom property"?

Earp: No, but that makes sense. The county doesn’t have a whole lot of park type resources as far as personnel and consultants and professionals go, so it makes sense to me that they would be hiring out for someone to do a wildlife plan.

KR: If Kyle assumes the property, will the city be assuming what is now a county park and, with it, O&M responsibility for the park?

Earp: Essentially, that would apply if we annexed the property, which we don’t intend to do, at least immediately. I do foresee there being some sort of a partnership arrangement in the future. We’re willing to partner with the county if that means we staff the visitors center. So it would be in our ETJ, just like any other county facility in our ETJ. The county’s the one responsible for operating it, manning it and running it, but, because I think this is going to be such a neat thing for our area to have — we don’t really have, to my knowledge, a conservation easement property that’s protected that you’re allowed to go into and go see. I think it’s going to be something that’s really going to be unique and neat for our community. I think we’re going to want to be a part of that. I just don’t know how that’s going to look yet. We haven’t had any conversations with the county or with the county and the Dahlstroms about that. But that’s something I see happening over the next year or two as we start to build a relationship with the Dahlstroms, in particular.

KR: Any thought been given to constructing, for lack of a better name or description, a conservation/wildlife educational center on the property?

Earp: The only way I can answer that is through the comments I’ve heard the Dahlstroms make, because I haven’t been a party to what they’ve negotiated with Hays County. But they did mention something to that effect, whether it be something like an information kiosk that would teach about the natural flora and fauna and interesting geological features. To what extend, I do not know, but I do know that’s something they’ve been very conscious of and thinking about. I’ve heard the Dahlstroms and/or their attorneys say they were considering having like cabins on site where people could stay and then have that as part of the experience. But there aren’t any immediate plans for that. The immediate plan is to have the information kiosk for visitors to check in and to open up trails and that’s about the extent of what the immediate plans are that I’m aware of.

KR: Is the city going to take over operations of the quarry?

Earp: No. The city will be responsible for the oversight and any type of licensing issues through the state. We would be responsible for those pieces. Right now, Dripping Springs has been doing that because it’s in Dripping Springs’ ETJ. But we’re not going to operate the quarry by any means.

KR: So right now you are telling me there are absolutely no plans to develop the Dahlstrom property if it becomes part of Kyle’s ETJ?

Earp: You can’t develop the property.

KR: You could if you bought the conservation easement.

Earp: Possibly, but that would cost money.

KR: About $350,000, as I understand it.

Earp: Yeah, today. But that’s not the family’s wishes. It’s definitely not our desire. In fact, our motivation was purely just to connect to the south. But, in meeting with the family, they’re the ones that made it clear that while they wanted to participate they didn’t know if they were comfortable breaking the ranch up into multiple jurisdictions anymore than it already is. They already have one little piece that I believe is in Buda or in Austin, one of the two. So they are the ones that told us that this is a bigger deal than you think it is because we really want to see our entire ranch go one way or the other. And we’ve been having those conversations for months, trying to figure out how that would work and how the family wants to see it. For the longest time the Dahlstroms have had more of a relationship with the Buda community than the Kyle community. So there’s concerns and considerations in that regard as well. I do know the property has in its conservation easement they excluded 20 acres on the vary far north on 967 that they could develop perhaps a visitors center or a conference center to go along with the property. Or they could do retail or something. But it’s my understanding from speaking with their attorney, because the impervious cover limits are so stringent that even though it’s 20 acres the development itself could only be four acres, maybe even three.

KR: Are you aware that the Greater San Marcos Partnership’s web site lists that the land on which the Anthem development is supposed to be built is for sale?

Earp: That was brought up at the Dripping Springs meeting. Clark Wilson owns the property. Where the San Marcos Partnership pulls those listings from is from a third party who then gets it from the original listing information. So what you’re seeing is the original listing from whenever Clark Wilson bought the property. I have e-mails from Clark Wilson where he was trying to track down how that information was still making it out to the web site because he doesn’t have it on the market.

KR: So it’s not really for sale.

Earp: It’s not really for sale.

KR: Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn’t you secure the ILA with Mountain City before pursuing this deal?

Earp: Let me tell you about the chicken and the egg conversation. Mountain City has represented they will not consider or take action until Dripping Springs takes action. Dripping Springs says it will not consider or take action until the Dahlstroms request in writing that they be released. The Dahlstroms said we won’t request in writing to be released until we have an agreement with Kyle. So the agreement with Kyle is on the agenda for tonight. That should lead to the letter which should lead to Dripping Springs releasing it which should lead to Mountain City considering it.

KR: Considering it, but not passing it.

Earp: I can’t guarantee, but they won’t even take it up until Dripping has done their part. Dripping won’t take it up until the Dahlstroms have requested that it be released. The Dahlstroms won’t request it until they have protections from Kyle.

So round and round it goes and where it stops …

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

P&Z OKs Goforth office park that could create 50 jobs

The Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously recommended a zoning change last night that would create a 10-building office/warehouse park on Goforth Road that would include one company its broker said would create 50 jobs.

Although the proposed change directly conflicts with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the reality is this section of the city parted ways with the Comprehensive Plan a long time ago.

"As you look at this property from the ground this is becoming our defacto industrial park in Kyle," Director of Planning and Community Development Howard J. Koontz told the commissioners in recommending the proposed zoning change on 5.1 acres at 1151 Goforth Road, just east of Dacey. "There’s a race at this point to see if we’re going to have the office that will support the hospital use to the north — is that going to expand out faster than the construction/management/warehouse/assembly use that’s going to start to spread to the north from the south? But along this portion of Goforth Road, this use is wonderfully compatible. They are creating a job center here that will have morning activity, afternoon activity and then be pretty much dormant the rest of the time."

The project is apparently the brainchild of Richard Wood, who not only develops similar properties in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and East Texas, but also heads up a company called Ameristar Screen and Glass, which will occupy, according to Wood’s real estate broker,15,000 square feet, or about a quarter of the total available space in the proposed development.

The broker, Will Melton of Warehouse Properties in Dallas, told the commissioners last night Wood likes to provide between 1,000 and 3,000 square feet of work space to those business owners who "are overlooked at lot — small commercial contractors, air conditioning repairmen, plumbers, electricians — the kind of people that are right now working in their garage. Most owners have overlooked that type of tenant in the past 10 years. There’s no place for them to go."

Melton said the office spaces lease for between $1,000 and $2,000 a month "They are very nice buildings," he said. "They fit the need for what these people have been looking for for a really long time."

Melton said the current plans are to place 10 buildings totaling 60,000 square feet on the property providing space for between 30 to 40 different companies.

Melton said Ameristar provides replacement glass products, such as windows and doors, for apartment complexes. Melton said Wood plans to "employ over 50 people, starting out," at the Goforth facility. "The crew in Dallas is over 75 employees. He has over 350 employees in the company. Pretty much what he does is he brings in the glass and then he will put it into the aluminum frames and then send it back out again. He produces no glass at all on the property. It’s simply assembling and putting it back out again."

Melton said all orders for Ameristar products are placed on line so no customers will be driving to the Goforth Road location. ""He has crews that go out every morning and come back every evening.’"

The broker said Wood stresses landscaping and safety in all his developments. "The buildings that he builds and redoes he outfits with motion sensors, floodlights over and above what anyone else would do. These buildings are so well lit at night I could send my wife out there and have no qualms about it all. The benefit of these projects that we’ve seen in Dallas and East Texas is that it provides lots of taxes for the cities that we move into."

In other action last night, the Commission unanimously:
  • Approved a conditional use permit for the proposed three story, 71-room Comfort Suites, to be located behind the Target store, after being told the exterior of the building will be constructed of stone and brick. The developers told me after the meeting they expect the hotel to open by the end of 2016.
  • Recommended the City Council rezone an acre of land at 1489 East RR 150 that would permit a woman who currently lives in a manufactured home in San Marcos to move that home to the re-zoned property.
  • Changed its schedule to eliminate its fourth Tuesday meeting this month because the date is two days before Thanksgiving, and move it to Thursday, Dec. 3; and scheduled two special meetings, one on Wednesday, Dec. 9 to meet with a Comprehensive Plan consultant, and a public meeting Tuesday, Dec. 8, specifically designed to receive public input on the Comprehensive Plan.