The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kyle needs another form of zoning denial

When it comes to zoning requests in Kyle, it’s pretty much a black-or-white, yes-or-no, decision. The applicant is either approved or denied. And if the applicant is denied, he or she is unable to revisit the decision for at least the next 365 days.

It seems to be there should be a shade of gray added to the mix. There are a few occasions, and I’ve seen them pop up here in Kyle, where members of the Planning & Zoning Commission or the City Council have a few problems with the zoning request. But since the only choices are approve or deny (or ask the applicant to withdraw the request, which is also not that satisfactory a solution) or possibly table (but I’ve never seen a commissioner or a council member move to table a zoning request until a certain date), the decision-makers are left with two unsatisfactory choices.

But there’s a simple solution. Kyle should institute a form of denial which, in other municipalities with which I have worked, is referred to as "Deny without prejudice." That means the applicant can come back to the deciding body for possible approval in 90 days. But here’s the key: The commissioners or the city council members have to elaborate exactly what their problems with the zoning request are and suggest ways the applicant can fix the problems within that 90-day window.

Let me give you a random, non-specific example. An applicant wants to get a parcel of land nudging a residential area zoned for retail services, or warehouse or a denser residential zoning. And let’s say a flood of residents from that residential area show up at the Planning & Zoning Commission and/or City Council hearing on the request to yell and scream that, if approved, the new zoning would be ugly, or cause too much traffic in their quiet neighborhoods, or drive down their property values. And let’s say some city officials are concerned about the possible strain the development could place on an already aging infrastructure in that area.

The opportunity is there to determine how many conversations the applicant has had with surrounding residents, business owners, what-have-you. Has the applicant presented them with drawings or scale models of what the project will look like? Has the applicant solicited possible compromise solutions to the problems addressed by the adjoining neighbors? Has the applicant discussed with the city different possible funding mechanisms that might be available to address the infrastructure concerns? Has the applicant considered redrawing the property lines and adjusting the plans just so to comply with city ordinances. Is there a way to block certain street access or construct new roadways to alleviate the traffic concerns? Has the applicant sought any studies to actually measure the effect the project might have on nearby property values? And if the commissioners or the council members determine that taking these additional steps during the next 90 days might produce an outcome more favorable to everyone concerned, a motion could be made to "deny the zoning request without prejudice," which would allow the applicant three months to fix the problems cited and return for what possibly could be a different outcome.

Just a recommendation I, for one, would like the city should consider.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mayor Webster: “People of action don’t write resolutions”

Kyle Mayor Todd Webster said today the furor surrounding development at I-35 and Yarrington Road possibly could have been averted had San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero accepted Webster’s repeated invitations to negotiate "an innovative, groundbreaking" development zone encompassing all the properties surrounding that intersection. He also said the citizens of San Marcos, especially the residents of the Blanco Vista subdivision, should be pressuring their own representatives to join Kyle in arriving at solutions for that area..

"I’ve reached out to Daniel a number of times hoping we could work together to develop a regional strategy for development in this area," Webster said. "And each time I got blown off."

Webster said on most of the occasions, Guerrero simply never replied to his entreaties to sit down and negotiate. He said after one face-to-face meeting in front of a number of other persons, Guerrero agreed to meet "and then he cancelled the appointment."

"This was extremely frustrating for me because I knew we could make this a win-win for both of us," Webster said.

The mayor’s statements came in reaction to a last-minute letter Guerrero drafted last week threatening retaliation in the form of a condemnation resolution to be passed unanimously by the San Marcos City Council if Kyle’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved a zoning change requested by property owners who wanted to construct a truck stop on the property.

"People of action don’t write resolutions," Webster said.

Guerrero has yet to respond to my request for a reaction to Webster’s statements.

Webster said what he hoped to achieve by sitting down with Guerrero was the creation of a sort of enterprise zone encompassing all the properties around I-35 and Yarrington that could be administered by both cities.

"We could set joint development standards and share both the sales tax revenues and the development costs," Webster said. "This could have been something groundbreaking, something innovative, a model for other communities to emulate."

He said it’s still not too late to negotiate some sort of similar agreement but the residents of San Marcos need to start applying pressure to their representatives to sit down and talk. "They should demand that their elected officials represent their best interests and not waste time threatening us," Webster said. "The people who have a real stake in this (the neighboring residents) should force their elected officials to care about the future of this property. They need to convince their representatives to work with Kyle to come up with the best possible solution.

"Those who care about politics pass resolutions," the Kyle mayor reiterated. "Those who care about solutions try to get together to resolve issues. I find it ironic they (San Marcos officials) object to what we’re doing when they refuse to negotiate with us about it."

Webster said the only caveat now is that PGI, the investment firm that owns the property where the truck stop was (and possibly still is) planned, would need to have a seat at the negotiating table.

"We need to get together to form a joint agreement between the two cities that allows both cities to share in the results of such an agreement," Webster said. "Personally, I like Daniel, but the fact that he has ignored my repeated requests to reach a solution everyone can live with has been extremely frustrating for me. I want to work with him."

Webster credited council member Shane Arabie as "the real hero" in initiating the events that led to the temporary truce resulting from PGI’s decision to withdraw its zoning request from Tuesday’s council agenda. Webster said the next steps for him in this process include "more conversations with the owners of the property. We need to understand their thinking. If we fail to work out something with San Marcos, there would be five solid votes on the City Council for warehouse zoning on that property."

Anthem developer proposes new water deal

The Kyle City Council is scheduled to consider Tuesday evening a proposal from Clark Wilson, the developer of the proposed 673-acre Anthem subdivision located about a mile northwest of the intersection of FM 150 and RR 2770 in Mountain’s City’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, that would call for Kyle to sell water and wastewater services to Anthem through infrastructure provided and paid for by Anthem.

The proposal would presumably replace a far more complicated proposed Interlocal Agreement that would have ultimately led to Anthem being annexed by the City of Kyle. Under Wilson’s latest proposal, Anthem would remain in Mountain City’s ETJ under the terms of a Development Agreement signed in December 2014 by Wilson and Mountain City Mayor Tiffany Carnutt. The proposed Interlocal Agreement created a political turmoil in Mountain City, arising from the fact that many of that community’s residents did not want Kyle to annex the subdivision.

Prior to considering Wilson’s latest proposal, the Kyle City Council is supposed to rescinding approval of the ILA with Mountain City and Hays County, which could be moot anyway because, the way I understand it, Hays County withdrew from the deal several months ago and was replaced by the City of Dripping Springs.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mountain City 150, a limited partnership Wilson formed when he signed the original Development Agreement with Mountain City, "at its own cost and expense, will construct a potable water distribution system" so that Kyle can provide water services to the estimated 1,900 residences in the project as well as "wastewater improvements and all necessary facilities to allow (Kyle) to provide retail wastewater services to the customers." Presumably, although it’s not actually stated in Wilson’s proposal, Kyle would bill the customers directly for the water and wastewater services.

In addition, Wilson would, through MC 150, pay Kyle "funds to assist in financing offsite improvements, including expansion of the city’s wastewater treatment plant," which, depending on the amount he plans to chip in, could be just the sweetener needed for the council to look favorably on the deal. Wilson’s proposal says "The amount, timing of payment and all details shall be included in a binding retail water and wastewater services agreement."

If agreed to, the agreement could end a lot of the current friction that exists among the neighboring communities of Kyle, Mountain City and, lately, Buda, which has expressed its dissatisfaction with a deal Kyle is trying to negotiate involving the Dahlstrom Ranch, property the city needed to acquire in order to legally annex Anthem, but may not be needed under this latest proposal. It would also appease local critics who argued Kyle did not need to add such a large chunk of residential property owners to the city’s tax rolls because the property tax burden already falls too heavily on homeowners.

There is no public hearing attached to either agenda item — the one to rescind the ILA and the companion piece to approve Wilson’s latest offer — so any citizen wishing to speak for or against either issue will have to do so during the public comment section that begins the 7 p.m. council session.

As reported earlier, the City Council will not consider Tuesday a zoning change that could have resulted in a truck stop in South Kyle, but it is expected to consider:
  • Much needed additional emphasis on storm water management including elevating it to an actual utility, under a proposed ordinance amendment, and levying punishments against those who pollute the storm water system. As part of this, the council could consider the concept of Limited Impact Districts in Kyle, which would go a long way to make the city greener in terms of water and energy conservation.
  • Council member Becky Selberra’s request for a "discussion on smoking ordinance," which presumably has to do with Section 23-182 of Ordinance 334 which states "It shall be unlawful for any person within the city limits, in any way, to intentionally or carelessly burn or cause to be burned any combustibles which causes noxious smoke or smoke of a significant quantity or quality to be released so as to inhibit the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties is hereby declared a nuisance and is hereby prohibited." I have, however, unsuccessfully tried to find any ordinance regarding smoking by citizens in public facilities so perhaps she wants to talk about that. Your guess is as good as mine on this one. I have reached out to council member Selberra requesting she provide me some specifics.
  • Council member Diane Hervol’s request to learn about and make public the city’s plans to provide public transportation for those citizens, many of whom are elderly, who relied on Austin’s Cap Metro before the city terminated that contract late last year.
  • The disposition, delivered as part of the city manager’s report, of a lawsuit between the city and Dr. Glen Hurlston of Princeton, Texas, who sued both the cities of Princeton and Kyle in federal court alleging Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett abused his powers by ordering Hurlston’s arrest for the domestic abuse of his then-wife, Suzanne, who gave birth to a child fathered by Barnett.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Developers have pulled truck stop request

Final Update: Tuesday's Kyle City Council agenda has been posted and the truck stop request is not on it.

Second update: I now feel comfortable stating for a fact that PGI Investment, the company seeking to locate a truck stop at Yarrington Road and I-35, has pulled from Tuesday’s City Council agenda its request for a zoning change for those 47.7 acres, a change that would have precipitated the construction of the controversial facility.

I feel comfortable because (1) I saw for myself an item council member Daphne Tenorio posted to the Blanco Vista Neighborhood's Facebook page that said: "I just received an email from the City Manager stating the developer of the truck stop has pulled the item indefinitely," (2) because I also saw a copy of an email from that very same city manager, Scott Sellers, sent to members of the Kyle City Council that said "The applicants for the Warehouse Zoning on I-35/Yarrington (future FM 150) have postponed (emphasis mine) their application indefinitely. This item will be noticed before returning to the City Council for a public hearing.", and (3) because I also received confirmation on the withdrawal from council member Diane Hervol.

Back to original post: I am in the process of reaching out to city officials for confirmation of this, but since I first started hearing these rumors after 5 p.m. today, I’m somewhat leery about receiving a prompt reply.

Earlier Update: According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, council member Damon Fogley posted on a Facebook page that I don’t have access to: "IH-35/Yarrington Road agenda item for warehouse rezoning (truck stop) has been indefinitely (emphasis mine) postponed by the applicant. It will not be on the City Council agenda for Feb. 2."

Resuming original post: Last Tuesday, in front of an overflow crowd of residents, the overwhelming majority of whom wanted the zoning request denied, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-2 to do just that. It was expected, however, that the City Council would overturn that decision.

To be honest, it would not surprise me at all if these rumors are true and PGI has indeed withdrawn its request. Earlier this week, I wrote an article harshly critical of PGI for its abysmal community relations performance in this matter, for not reaching out to surrounding communities to seek a mutually agreeable compromise on this issue. I’m not going to go so far as to say definitely that PGI has decided to do this, but it would make sense. What comes up when I Google PGI Investments, LL.C., is a homebuilder based in Carlsbad, Calif., near San Diego. It doesn’t make sense, to me at least, that this PGI is the same outfit as the truck stop PGI, because I can’t find any history of the Carlsbad PGI getting involved in deals like this. But, if it is indeed the same company, you would think this company with its background would have a certain amount of empathy for homeowners, and thus be more likely to engage in meaningful negotiations with homeowners and other equity holders in the area.

On this same topic, it is worth nothing that San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero crafted a harshly worded, albeit self-serving, letter Tuesday to Kyle Mayor Todd Webster. Guerrero said the City of San Marcos "does not support the proposed change and does not believe a truck stop at that location (on the Kyle-San Marcos border) is the highest and best use for that property. We also do not find it to be conducive to a positive partnership and regional relationship." So its possible, PGI’s actions, if indeed they have taken place, could have been the result of some pressure applied by San Marcos city officials along with the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

I will update this when and if I learn more. As of this writing (5:37 p.m.), an agenda for Tuesday’s Kyle City Council meeting has not been posted.

City Council emasculates Planning & Zoning Commission

Near the end of last Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning Commission, after all the truck stop NIMBYs had cleared the chamber, Planning Director Howard J. Koontz told the commissioners to expect some vacancies on the commission in the very near future and warned that only a few individuals were standing in line to take their places.

I’m not at all surprised. Serving on the Planning & Zoning Commission in Kyle (but not in other cities where I have been involved in city government) is a thankless task. The City Council lacks the courage or the integrity to have any faith in their commission appointees and, as a result, has stripped from the commissioners the authority that would make serving on the committee worthwhile.

I can’t imagine how frustrating members of the Planning & Zoning Commission must be. When the agenda for the upcoming P&Z meeting is posted, usually early Friday evening, I read it very carefully and then on Saturdays and Sundays, armed with my camera and accompanied by my faithful canine companion, I’ll venture out to the properties in question to take a look at the areas myself, even take pictures for later study or possible use on this journal. That’s just me. I can’t begin to imagine all the more work, effort and study the commissioners devote to these same agenda items every single week. And what happens? What is the result of their hard work, effort and study? The City Council will, one week later, overturn the commissioners’ decisions. Really?

This coming council meeting will be a perfect example. Following more than an hour of listening to citizens’ concerns and time spent debating the pros and cons of the issue, not to mention the pre-meeting effort spent reviewing the city’s Comprehensive Plan and other documents, site visits, etc., the commissioners voted 5-2 to deny a proposed zoning change that would have allowed a developer to locate a truck stop in South Kyle. On Tuesday, I’m betting the City Council, on an identical 5-2 vote, approves the zoning request, ignoring the decision of those the council deemed planning experts (If they weren’t, why did the council appoint them in the first place?).

And this won’t be the first time this has happened. It’s routine. Just a couple of weeks ago, the council overturned a P&Z decision that would have allowed the construction of a townhome development in downtown Kyle.

I’m not arguing here which side had the more valid argument in either of these cases. I’m just chagrined at the ease this council has in overturning P&Z decisions and I can understand why no one with any real sense or dedication would want to waste their time and experience the frustration of serving on the Planning & Zoning Commission.

This is an easy fix, however, although I sincerely doubt this City Council has the courage or the integrity to make the fix. But, in an ideal world, Kyle would do what every other city government I have ever worked with does: Change the rules, the ordinances, whatever it is needed, so that it takes four-fifths of the entire council (in Kyle’s case, that would mean six council members) to overturn any decision by its Planning & Zoning Commission, not just a simple majority.

If that change is made, now you have here in Kyle what most other cities have: a Planning & Zoning Commission with real authority to forge a path for the city’s future and you’re far more likely to see a wider and deeper pool of qualified candidates wishing to serve on P&Z. Everybody wins.

However, I’ll bet you my last dollar this City Council lacks both the courage and the integrity to take this necessary step. These folks don’t trust or respect anybody, not even each other, let alone someone serving as one of their appointees on a board or commission.

What a shame! What a disgrace!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

P&Z offers truck stop foes temporary relief

Much to the delight of the overwhelming majority of some 60 individuals who attended last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission hearing, the commissioners voted 5-2 to essentially reject an item — a proposed truck stop at the intersection of Yarrington Road and I-35 — that wasn’t even on the agenda.

The item on the agenda to be decided was actually whether the 47-acre property should be rezoned from agriculture to warehouse use. But the neighboring homeowners, 25 of whom stood up to speak against the idea (no one other than the developer spoke in favor of it), deftly changed the subject of the discussion to the proposed truck stop and the person who bungled the presentation for the developers (PGI, which owns the property, couldn’t have found a worse spokesperson if they had held auditions) only added fuel to the fire.

The victory for those who oppose the truck stop, most of whom live in the Blanco Vista subdivision on the other side of Yarrington, which, somewhat unfortunately for them, is in San Marcos, will be short-lived however, By this time next week, that land will be zoned for warehouse use. The Kyle City Council will make sure of that at its meeting next Tuesday by also voting, somewhat ironically, 5-2 in favor of the zoning change.

The argument for locating a truck stop at that location, an argument I don’t necessarily agree with, revolves around the planned Austin-to-Houston Expressway. As strange as it seems, especially when you consider how much Texas spends on highways and how proud state officials are of the highway system in Texas, there is no expressway between the capital of Texas and the state’s largest city. But one is in the works. The missing link in that expressway is the highway — which I envision will turn out to be a 45-type tollroad — between I-35 and I-10. The plan is to construct that link starting at the intersection of Yarrington and I-35, so traffic from Austin will head south on I-35, exit Yarrington and then zip southeast across the presumed tollroad to I-10 and on to Houston without ever encountering a single traffic light. It’s that "exit Yarrington" part that has the developers so excited, especially as they consider all the 18-wheelers that will be using that connection for a quicker trip to Houston.

Here are the problems I have with that plan, however. First, I think the planners are drastically over-estimating the amount of truck traffic between Austin and Houston. I make that drive whenever I go to the vacation beach house I love spend time at in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. I am never overwhelmed by truck traffic between here and Houston, not like I am when I make the trip to Dallas on that section of the NAFTA Highway (i.e., I-35) between here and Dallas.

Here’s the second problem I have with it. In order for the route to be a true expressway, the interchanges can’t be at-grade. To keep the traffic flowing would require an overpass exit, similar to the one at I-35 and the 45 tollroad in Buda, connecting I-35 to the I-10 connecting road and that overpass, by definition, will bypass a truck stop at Yarrington and I-35.In fact, some of the propety involved in this zoning request might be needed for construction of the interchange. It would make far more sense to me to locate the truck stop at the first available exit on that new tollroad.

But, what the hell do I know?

Then there's the fact that those motorists originating north of Austin wishing to use the I-10 Connector will get to it by using the 130 Tollroad to bypass Austin and, in the process, bypassing the Yarrington Road interchange. In fact, it would make far more sense to me to build a truck stop at the intersection of 130 and the I-10 Connector.

But, what the hell do I know.

And those beginning their trek from closer to Central or even South Austin are not going to feel the overwhelming need to make a stop a scant 20 minutes or less into their journey unless they felt the compelling need to shell out the bucks for some skanky sex.

So the other bad news for those living in the area, who voiced opposition to the truck stop because, among other concerns, of all the additional traffic it would attract, is not only will the new zoning be in place by this time next week but sometime soon that interchange is going to see far more traffic than these well-meaning folks ever imagined. That new feeder road is not only going to provide an Austin-to-Houston expressway, but a San Marcos-to-Houston expressway as well and I envision a large number of college students using that route.

It's also going to provide a convenient bypass of congested Austin for all those motoring to Houston from Johnson City, Fredericksburg and points west. Soon they will be able to exit U.S. 290 on the new-and-improved Highway 150 which will feed directly into the I-10 Connector at Yarrington, adding significantly more traffic to the Blanco Vista neighborhood.

Here, however, is what I find so maddening about this entire process. I know very little about PGI Investment, LLC, except to say I have never, ever, in my 15 years of direct involvement in municipal planning witnessed a company perform this abysmally in the area of community relations. I have yet to find even a shred of evidence to indicate that anyone connected with PGI has, at any time, made a single effort to reach out to members of the surrounding community with the goal of reaching a jointly agreeable compromise solution to this argument. Instead, they offer up a spokesperson who comes to last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission and, instead of discussing the zoning, tells everyone in the room "Our primary goal is to build a truck stop on that property." He said the truck stop might not consume the entire 47 acres, but he said it would be "significant." That’s tantamount to telling these families "I’m going to slightly reduce the size of the pit bull that will tear your children to shreds." Talk about delivering exactly the wrong message!

Not only that, this individual had absolutely no idea what was happening in the very city in which he wants to locate his truck stop. He was acting like he was doing the city this huge favor by also promising to construct on the property warehouse/offices, which he claims Kyle so desperately needs and wants. This clown obviously had absolutely no idea whatsoever that both P&Z and the City Council recently approved a zoning change for a business park development on Goforth Road between Dacy Lane and Lehman High School that would consist entirely of these kinds of warehouse/office spaces in a more suitable location — an area already surrounded by other businesses and away from the interstate.

I am also somewhat saddened that no on one the Planning & Zoning Commission took a leadership role in the debate. I wish one of them had (1) instructed the PGI spokesperson to set up a series of meetings between PGI’s planners and representatives of the nearby neighborhoods and (2) instructed those folks from Blanco Vista to form a five to seven-person committee, whose members would be willing to engage in results-oriented conversations (i.e., who would be willing to compromise) to begin discussions that would lead to a solution that both sides could live with, if not be overwhelmingly happy with.

History has proved what diplomacy can accomplish. If, at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union could agree on an arms reduction treaty, you would think one subdivision in San Marcos could reach some sort of compromise agreement with a company that wants to develop in Kyle.

One other thing filled me with a sense of melancholia as well. This morning I opened my Austin American-Statesman and the lead story on the front page was the announcement of a new development on 14 acres located in the heart of downtown Austin, a development that, according to the paper, "could include a hotel, housing, restaurants, shops and a medical office building." And I thought to myself, "Gee, I wish the first thing all those motorists traveling north out of San Marcos on I-35 saw, right after they drove by the nice tombstone sign that welcomed them to Kyle, was a development that ‘could include a hotel, housing, restaurants, shops and a medical office building’ instead of an ugly truck stop because that would present such a more favorable first impression of the city I have chosen to call home. Yes, I know that, not only does Kyle not have any zoning ordinances that would allow for a mixed-use development, it also lacks the sophistication to even contemplate such a development. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming.

And wishing.

And hoping.

In other action last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission:
  • Approved a conditional use permit for Sonic Dive-In to construct a 1,411-square-foot restaurant on Ranch Road 150 next to the PAWS Animal Shelter.
  • Okayed the construction of an all-metal, non masonry 4,950-square-foot building that Kyle Chapman Motor Sales, which lists Buda as its official address, can use as the headquarters for its used car sales.
  • Recommended the City Council approve a request for a variance from the ordinance that requires all lots in rural subdivisions have a minimum width of 130 feet at their front property line requested by Noe and Maria Briseno of 114 Sunrise Circle, a rather isolated cul-de-sac north of Beebee Road; and then immediately after that recommendied the council deny an identical request from Sylvia Vera on property located at the southwest corner of Highway 2001 (Niederwald Strasse Road) and Rolling Hills Drive. Go figure. The vote on both was 6-1 with commissioner Dex Ellison voting against the first recommendation and commissioner Timothy Kay casting the only vote in favor of recommending the second.

Monday, January 25, 2016

City manager muses on turbulence in the city, long-term visions, new emphasis on storm water management

This is the final installment of my recent conversation with City Manager Scott Sellers to discuss his first year in office.

What has surprised you the most about your first year here?
I would say the amount of turbulence. It would be nice to just fly straight with minimal bumps. We’ve had a lot of turbulence this year.

What has caused that?
I think it’s growing pains. The political landscape is very turbulent here and that’s surprising. I think there are very entrenched viewpoints that don’t back down. You also have family, historic, legacy citizens — which is great to have — but as more people have moved in and a more outside approach and way of thinking has caused some of that turbulence also. "Do we grow? How fast do we grow? What does it look like?" versus "I don’t want to grow at all. This is not the Kyle that I knew." Growth, as we know, is inevitable. It’s just how we’re going to grow.

But there is also a resistance to change. "I want to live in the middle of downtown in a rural setting."
Pete, you called it. You’re right. A lot of that turbulence is from change. And the change is happening very quickly. If the change were to be slow, it would be far less bumpy. Change is scary. It’s necessary but it causes people to entrench themselves into their mind set, their philosophy. And, at some point and we’ve seen all this year a certain mind set wins out. It doesn’t matter which side that is. And so it leaves certain people very angry or bitter, so they re-entrench themselves. Or they lash out. I don’t want to over-generalize here, but I think you said it well. It’s change.

I will also say a blog, the newspaper, some of the other media we have competing philosophies on how we approach the media in this area. I can see that from a citizens’ standpoint where they would be confused and where it would add to that uncertainty of change. How are we changing? I’ve always said I think a positive press does more to bring a community together than anything else. Now I know we can’t artificially generate positive, for one, and, two, we have to report on the news. I absolutely get that. And I would never ask the press to not report on what is legitimately happening. I have learned over the years there is a way to report the news that it is either inclusive or divisive. And I would just love the inclusive. "Here’s what we’re going through and here’s the response. Here’s how we’re going to move forward. Here’s how we shouldn’t be afraid, citizens of Kyle. This is why we should rally together and come up with a common solution to the issue." Or "This is what is being done."

It’s never been my philosophy to purposely mislead or put something forward that’s going to be divisive. Everything that we look at, that we work on, we try to change is always to bring people together and move the city forward. Sometimes those are harder decisions. The tax rate increase was a hard decision. I think the council did a very good job at the end of the day navigating through that. They brought it down a little bit and that was great. But the decisions that we pushed forward from an organizational standpoint are meant to unify and move us forward.

At any time during the year did the thought ever cross your mind, if just for a fleeting second, "I should have never left Kilgore’?
(Laughs heartily.) From a professional standpoint, I’m going to say "No". And this is the reason: My work style and my work ethic is very fast-paced. I think that’s one of the reasons the council hired me, because change was happening at such a fast pace. So Kyle matches my style of leadership and pace. The other thing is that Kyle, although we’re not hitting our aggressive revenue targets as close as we’d like to, is financially healthy. And the upside potentially to Kyle is widening. Our community trajectory will be moving up for a very long time. That’s exciting to be a part of. Kilgore, for the last 11 months, has had negative sales tax, every single month in a row. The community was very strong. When I was there, it was very strong and I loved managing that community. But they were in a different place in their cycle. The problem was the oilfield declined and they are very predominantly depended on oil and gas. So I am very sad to see what they have gone through since I left. They’ve had really significant issues dealing with those sales tax funds. So I guess you could say I got out at the right time, but it wasn’t for that reason by any means.

But the council there was more stable and I go back to that change comment you made. Change was still happening there, fast-paced, but from a community growth and stability standpoint the community was a lot more stable because of the history of that community. They had weathered the oil downturn of the ‘80s. They had weathered the oil downturn of the ‘90s. So they had a lot of history that kept them a lot more stable and they understood the policies. They understood revenue decline. They understood the need to raise taxes when the time was right and they understood the need to lower taxes when the time was right. Kyle is essentially a new city and growing out of the newness are hard decisions to make. We don’t have the history of making those hard decisions. There’s uncertainty there about now knowing exactly who we are. Are we just a bedroom community? Are we bringing in this type of industry? While all those decisions are still being identified and locked down, we’re going to have the turmoil, the turbulence.

Do you see the need for Kyle to develop a long-term visionary plan. Where do we want be in the year, say, 2050?
The transportation plan is the 2040 master plan.

But taking a transportation plan out of an overall development plan never seems to make sense to me.
You’re right. I agree. Government sometimes get accused of going way overboard on the planning and those plans just sit on the shelf while life happens. I’ve been involved in the creation of quite a few plans. The thing that I have kind of learned is that ‘Yes, it’s important to accept a vision." The steps to get there, it’s good to throw that out there. But there’s a 99 percent chance those steps are going to change within the next five years. So the vision I totally agree with. You need to sit down and say "What does Kyle look like in 2050?" What does our road system look like. What does our economic development look like?

But really, shouldn’t we be asking "What do we want it to look like?"
You’re right. I think I mentioned clay on a potter’s wheel the last time we spoke.

So what do we want that vase to look like when we take if off the potter’s wheel?
You’re right. I’m absolutely with you. And we’ve had many of those conversations. We asked in the survey, but we’ve had multiple conversations as we’ve worked more specifically with the development partners from all facets of the development game. As we talked to the council about shaping the budgets. As we’ve talked to the consultants on the transportation side and the comprehensive planning side. What does this mid-term (comp plan) update look like and how does that shape us through the end of this decade? Yes, we need to put something together. What we look like at the end of the day is a fun question to ask. I think we need to answer a few more questions — interim questions — before we really say this is who we are in 2050. But we’re a lot closer. We really are. And it’s a fun, exciting conversation to have.

Something I’ve been advocating for a long time and it was magnified by the recent storms is putting more emphasis on storm water management and paying for it with a storm water fee so that a storm water could become an enterprise fund. Will you seek to include a stormwater fee in your next budget proposal?
You and I have talked about this in the past. There is a perception that comes with a storm water fee where that has been introduced and citizens have railed against it as another tax. Where it has been introduced and has actually been successful, it has generated much-needed revenue for a very serious problem. Would I welcome a storm water fee? Absolutely, I would. But it does have to be examined from the overall cost of living in the city of Kyle, with all the other taxes, fees and other taxing entities that are here and what they’re trying to do on their taxes and fees.

First of all, we’ve had two 500-year floods in the last year. I don’t know what that means. Are we going to see more of them? It was a very strong el Nino year. Are we going to see more of those? There’s uncertainty there. We did hire late this year a storm water management position. Her name is Kathy Roecker. She is another one of those who is an incredible hire for the city of Kyle. She came out of TCEQ’s enforcement division for stormwater. She knows how to put together a storm water management plan. She will be responsible for looking at the storm water for all development moving forward and insuring that the impact is what it is supposed to be. Moving forward with her, how can she help us with discharge into creeks, erosion control, all those things that go into storm water, she’s our go-to now. We have not had that. Ever. And so that is a huge, huge step forward. TCEQ was looking at our storm water and was asking "Now that you’re growing, what are you doing about storm water?" And that’s one of the reasons we hired her. She is a huge, huge step in the right direction for the city.

When we, as a city, have done our modeling, we’ve done our water model and we’ve done our wastewater model. There is a storm water model that also can be done. GBRA is looking at storm water regionally and so we’re waiting to see what that looks like, to see where we need to put our focus. At some point — I don’t know when, I want Kathy to help let me know on that — at some point we’re going to need to look more exhaustively at a storm water model. That will show us where our biggest offenders are with runoff, with pervious and impervious surfaces, and we can do more to our infrastructure at that point. We just haven’t started that and, honestly, it’s a General Fund expense. It’s not an Enterprise Fund. It’s part of streets.

We look at it now and we consider it in all of our street building and we have with our residential developers. There’s a section that they have to follow on storm water. So I’m not as concerned with our newer developments, but maybe our older developments that didn’t have to follow the same standard. We need to see what the infrastructure looks like from a storm water perspective and allocate funds for that just as we are for any other.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Kyle doesn’t consider Blanco Vista an ‘established, stable’ neighborhood

Kyle says it's OK to build a truck stop across the street from here because this is not an established stable neighborhood

As expected, Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission agenda includes an item seeking approval to change the zoning on property at I-35 and Yarrington Road so that the owners can locate "a truck/travel center" (i.e., a Godzilla truck stop) on the property that the city of Kyle claims is in a "remote location from established stable neighborhoods."

The city’s staff does not seem to be opposed to the zoning change, but I do expect a host of citizens from the neighboring Blanco Vista residential district to fill the chambers and protest the proposal. The problem is those well-meaning citizens live in an established stable neighborhood on the south side of Yarrington, which is in San Marcos, so their objections will carry only moral, but absolutely no political, weight with the commission or the city of Kyle. The San Marcos City Council, incidentally, has gone on the record in opposition to a truck stop being located on the property.

In a letter accompanying the zoning request from the owners’ attorneys, Terrence L. Irion of Austin writes "Transportation related services, such as a truck/travel center and warehouse facilities are ideal uses for this property located … in close proximity to the railroad tracts to the west." The letter makes no reference to the residences in Blanco Vista to the south.

In his letter, Irion tries to appeal to the sensibilities of the five "whatever a developer wants, a developer gets" members of the City Council by writing: "As has often been said by Kyle Officials (sic) in recent years, business growth is key to stabilizing the tax base and taking the burden of paying for growth off the shoulders of the homeowners in the community." What remains to be decided, perhaps, is whether that means any kind of business growth.

The staff analysis accompanying the request states "…at some point in the near future the site will have utility services available (no wastewater line currently serves the site, but that has not stopped P&Z or the City Council from approving zoning changes identical to this one in the past) and, once that occurs, the property — with its proximity to interstate and rail, and it’s remote location from established stable neighborhoods — will be well-suited to those uses permissible in the warehouse district."

Those residents of the nearby Blanco Vista subdivision may not think too highly of the comment that the property is in a "remote location from established stable neighborhoods."

The complete P&Z agenda for Tuesday's 6:30 p.m. meeting can be found here.

Sellers shares his thoughts on economic development, shared municipal facilities, city’s cable television station

(Updated 1:17 p.m. Saturday to reflect Kyle Chamber CEO Julie Snyder's comments on BR&E within that organization.)

This is the second part in a three-part series detailing my recent conversation with City Manager Scott Sellers. My questions/comments are in bold face, not necessarily because they are particularly bold, but simply to set them apart from the city manager’s remarks.

You told me last year that economic development was one of your major passions. How would you grade yourself in the area of economic development over the last year and what would you like to accomplish in this area in the coming year?
"It’s hard. I have too hard of a time answering that. So if I can answer that from the city’s perspective. I think the City of Kyle, even though we didn’t land a large prospect, we put together the framework to so in 2015. So on that side I would say we get an A. From the Greater San Marcos Partnership, from renegotiating deals like with HPI. They own the property north of Home Depot, along Dry Hole Road and Kyle Parkway. Nothing had been happening on that property for quite some time even though there was an existing 380 agreement with them. We worked with them to move that forward. So we put in place a lot of the pieces to move forward.

Economic development now reports directly to me in the system. We will land the big industry at some point, but we didn’t have to to give ourselves an A this year. Maybe in general we don’t have to give ourselves an A, even though that’s typically publicly how we’re graded. If we don’t show that big hitter people think we’re not doing anything. But we really are working very hard behind the scenes. It’s still just a passion of mine today as it was this time a year ago.

One of the things we have talked about internally is the incubator approach. That’s something we will need to do. What we’re talking about here is economic gardening, where you take the homegrown business. And it’s a lot easier to grow up from within than attract from without. Sometimes we spend so much time and resource to bring the big hitter here when that can be applied right here in our backyard. That’s through what’s called BR&E — business retention and expansion. As part of restructuring internally and with the Greater San Marcos Partnership, that’s been a big facet of what we’ve talked about. In fact, I believe even the Chamber of Commerce is trying to get more into the BR&E approach within the chamber also. (Editor's note: Chamber CEO Julie Snyder subsequently told me "The Kyle Chamber Board of Directors, at their most recent planning and goal setting session, discussed BR&E. Understanding that the Greater San Marcos Partnership and the Economic Development team with the City of Kyle has a BR&E program in place, the Chamber's Board believes it's important to learn about those programs. The goal is to be a resource for our businesses, have information to assist them, and communicate with them. Learning about current programs will assist us with that goal.") So that’s something I think we all recognize.

In July of last year you made a presentation to the City Council on shared municipal facilities. Has anything progressed along those lines?
Yes, it has. From that conversation, we have met with representatives from Plum Creek since they had designed their "uptown" years ago to be that city service and school district facility. So we have talked with them several times very specifically about what that would look like. They, on their part, have brought in several development partners that have worked on comparable projects elsewhere. But it’s one of those things where the fit has to be right. Projects like this are long-term projects. It’s much more than putting a city hall on raw land. You have to have all the adjacent retail and office space to be complimentary. I would say a couple of things on that. We’ve talked to some consultants who have worked on some big projects like that to help Plum Creek re-look at the way they have that initially designed. Those conversations have been very good. Plum Creek has done some internal reorganizing and I think that’s going to be very healthy. I have a meeting with them (that was due to take place this week) to talk about this very same concept.

Internally we have done some things to help us move toward a possible relocation. For example: What does a design look like for city hall? To date, I can’t answer that. But I do know there are designs — office designs — that are very modern and that are re-shaping the private sector quite a bit. Like the Open Floor Plan design where things inside are very modular, very mobile, that allows for teams to come together or come apart as they need to, allows for synergies between departments. This building, for example, is designed from a very compartmentalized approach. You’ve got planning over here, admin and finance over there, you have police in a separate building. That approach is a common approach, but it is an historic approach. It’s not a modern or a future approach.

This goes back to how we move Kyle forward and become a thought leader. Well, what if we had a facility that was a true one-stop shop under one roof so you have the opportunity for walk-in traffic to get their building permit taken care of at the very same time as they pay utility bills at the same time they take care of something with the court or a police record?. Now we’re not sending citizens all over the place to get things done with the city but we’re bringing them under one roof. That also brings in major efficiencies in operation because if you have staff services in one big room, for example, now instead of needing six, seven , eight copy machines, you need one or two. All the things we do to keep departments separate, all the different cameras and routers from an IT standpoint and instead of having all those segregated, you bring them together. You have a very integrated system. So we’ve been talking about "Does that make sense for this organization?" And, if it does, what other things technologically may make sense for the city? Does telecommuting make sense for certain positions so we can cut down on our footprint? How does that cut down environmentally on our footprint? How does that save taxpayer dollars long-term? All that needs to be baked into those conversations and we are having them right now. So it wasn’t just something I arbitrarily threw out by any means. It’s something that we’re very serious about. If we’re going to relocate, how can we maximize the potential to the citizens and to the organization while reducing the costs and saving taxpayer dollars?

Have you had any talks with the county, the state — any other governmental entities — about collaborating with you on this project?
Yes, we have. But to the extent of making it a completely all-in-one governmental center we haven’t. The county built Precinct 2 offices several years ago and put themselves off on (Highway) 2770. So they’re kind of out there, but they’re in their own facility. Are there departments or facets of the county we can incorporate and I think the answer is "yes." There’s been, for example, talks for years about a dispatch center. Can we consolidate? Can we have a dispatch center as part of this facility? The school district needs a lot of space. That’s not a secret. They’ve talked about needing to move and relocate certain things. How could we be, if not in the same building, part of a complex together where we’re sharing IT, for example. Which would be huge for both of us. As an aside, years ago when I was in a certain city we partnered with a county that was just three buildings down on, not only technology, but on geothermal, with the same pipe work underground. There’s definitely cost savings to be had with consolidation.

I look at it from the residents’ point-of-view. Take the recent floods, for example. It seems to me it would be much better for the citizens if they knew there was one location they could go to get help, whether it was from the city, state, county or federal government.
I totally agree with you. That would be ideal. A perfectly designed and bought-into uptown in Plum Creek I could envision — if not one facility — you know you’re going to the government center and this building is that and another building is that. The conversations haven’t taken place to that level, but I’m kind of holding back just a little bit until, with the Plum Creek group, we have the right partner for the development.

During the council’s first budget workshop last summer, you told me by the end of the year the city would have its own cable TV station. What happened and where is the money designated for that purpose by the cable television franchise agreement?
The money’s still there. None of it has been spent, except on the upgrades that we needed to make to our council chambers that, when I last spoke to you on this subject, I didn’t know we needed to make. We’ve lived through several major glitches in our council chambers — the sound system, the projection system, etc. We’ve worked on upgrading that. We have spoken with representatives from Time Warner Cable on what it’s going to take to get into their system. So we already know that answer. But there were some technology upgrades we needed to make first. So were are in the process of making those with the council chambers.

Personnel wise, we needed to have somebody that could oversee development of not only the channel — putting it together, hardware-wise — but putting together the programming. One thing our Time Warner Cable rep told us was they wanted to see a certain amount of original programming. So what you see a lot on these channels, cities will go out and find filler space. And while that’s all good — I enjoy the NASA channel just as much as anyone, or the Armed Forces channel — it doesn’t do much to benefit your local viewership with local information which is what these channels were predicated on. So we need to have internally the resources to start generating original content to the point where we knew, once we launched the channel, we could sustain the channel and that was tasked to Kim (Hilsenbeck, the communications director) as part of our public information upgrade.

The way the statute works today is all the funds — 100 percent of the revenues generated from the PEG fee (Editors note: Public Education and Government access programming is supported by a PEG fee which is assessed to each cable subscriber) has to go to hardware, equipment. So you can’t spend it on personnel anymore. We can buy the editing software, the computers, the cameras, the filming rooms, the green screens — all that stuff — but we can’t pay Kim for her time. And we can’t bring on someone on a part-time basis. I come from a background where I went to a community that had all these PEG funds and I was asked to start a channel from scratch. So I did it on an absolute shoestring. I went and bought a little cheap camera and a tripod and it was terrible. I literally controlled our cable channel from my desk at city hall. I had a TV put in my office just so I could make sure I wasn’t screwing up. Sometimes, just for fun, I would pop my stuff on there. But to generate original content there I went to the schools and said "Can your student groups help/" I asked the athletics if they could give me footage of their sporting events. I set up the tripod for parades and there’s nothing more boring than watching two hours of parade, unedited. But I put it on there. And, of course, we streamed the council meetings. It was totally not well done, but there was still viewership there. We were able to make it better over time but we were still plagued by original content, quality content. So that’s something, before we get the channel up and running we need to make sure that the plan is in place.

I would love to see us get that up and running this fiscal year. The money’s been appropriated this fiscal year. We’ve had the conversations about getting the hardware acquired this fiscal year. It’s going to boil down to the content.

(The third and final segment of our conversation — dealing with change in Kyle and long-term visions for the city — will appear on this blog Monday.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

And then there were six

(Updated to include an email council member Tenorio sent to City Manager Sellers questioning the legality of the vote on the annexation resolution.)

Question: What’s the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth? Answer: Something citizens of Kyle will not receive from their city officials.

The hot button item on last night’s City Council agenda was a proposal to schedule a couple of public hearings on the subject of annexing land from the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction into the city. The majority of citizens who made the trip to City Hall to address the council on the subject during the Citizen Comments section of the agenda spoke against the annexation. Why? I dunno. None of them spoke with absolutely clarity why they were for or against the idea, but that did not keep them from taking sides on the issue and most were on the side of "no."

How did these folks know they were living on land the city was considering annexing? After all, the city was not required, at this stage of the proceedings, to notify residents living in the affected areas. The answer is the city provided, as part of the council’s agenda, a map specifically highlighting the five areas being considered.

The actual item to be voted on was the last one on the agenda and the council considered it following an hour and 42-minute executive session or a little over two hours and 45 minutes after the meeting began. By that time, the chamber was largely deserted. Most of those who spoke during the Citizens Comments period had already left. After Mayor Todd Webster placed the item before the council fior its consideration and was awaiting a motion to approve it, after the council was told they were provided with a map illustrating the areas to be annexed, City Manager Scott Sellers jumped up with an astounding "Oh, by the way" moment:

There is a sixth piece of land the city didn’t tell the public about, located on the east side of I-35, near the intersection of Goforth and Cotton Gin roads, that’s also being considered for annexation.
Forgetting to include this fact with the agenda is a serious screw-up on the part of the city. In fact, it’s so serious that someone with deep pockets and a few friends in high places who opposes the annexation could easily file a lawsuit that would, at the very least, keep the proposed annexation bottled up in the courts for years. Heck, our governor and attorney general have filed lawsuits with far less merit. Sellers produced a "corrected" map with the additional land illustrated on it and gave it to the council moments before it voted on the proposed resolution, but city made absolutely no attempt to make this map readily available to the public or members of the media.

Not only that, but during the executive session, Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix placed a copy of the map included with the agenda on the chamber’s large screen and told those few people still remaining in no uncertain terms that this map illustrated the lands to be annexed. He never mentioned the fact that there was a sixth piece of land being proposed for annexation that was not included on the map. I’m not accusing Hendrix of deliberately withholding information. I’m thinking he was left out of the loop as well. He didn’t know. Regardless, what he told the citizens gathered in the chamber was not the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. And that’s a problem. A potentially serious problem.

And there’s also the problem that the legend that comes with the map only lists the five areas depicted on the map. Nowhere does it say, for example, "Area 6 (not pictured) ..."

Now the City Council could have corrected this massive screw up by simply tabling the motion for two weeks until an accurate map with all the proposed land to be annexed could be made public as part of the Feb. 2 agenda. But hoping the Kyle City Council will ever do the right thing is like hoping my golden retriever will not chase that rabbit she just spotted in the underbrush. Ain’t gonna happen. Never has. I doubt it ever will.

Two council members — Diane Hervol and Daphne Tenorio — voted against the resolution. But Tenorio told me after the meeting she voted "nay" not to correct the city’s blunder but because "I don’t think the city was transparent enough in talking to citizens affected by this. I really would have liked to vote ‘yes,’ but the specific areas I’m not comfortable with right now." She said she was concerned because a number of people living in some of the areas opposed the annexation. "If somebody wants to be annexed, I’m completely OK with that. My concern is you’re trying to annex people without talking to them. I also don’t think we can afford to take on this additional area. Until we can afford to maintain our current infrastructure I have a problem adding additional burdens on our taxpayers."

(Updated information)
The morning after the council meeting, however, Tenorio sent the following email to Sellers:

"I am really concerned about last night’s resolution to extend the City of Kyle’s boundaries thru annexation. The map that was posted online last Friday was not the map that was approved. I have two concerns. First, while not purposely done, we did not give our citizens or our council the full 72 hours to review. The map that we voted on was not available to them or to me until right before the vote. Secondly, I am concerned that we are giving ammunition to the developers to litigate the annexation because we didn’t properly disclose."

That email was sent close to six hours prior to the original posting of this article. So there’s that.

(Resuming original article)
By the time I had a chance to talk to Hervol, she had already left the chamber.

In the only other significant action last night, the council laid all the necessary groundwork for a May election in which a very small handful of Kyle’s registered voters will turn out to cast ballots in two City Council races and for or against revisions in the city’s charter.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Charter changes, annexations top council agenda items

The City Council will consider (and almost certainly ultimately pass) an ordinance Tuesday establishing an election May 7 to vote on proposed changes to the city’s charter and take the first steps in annexing five areas of land currently in its extra-territorial jurisdiction, including the 2,253-acre Blanco River Ranch, the site of a planned high-end subdivision.

If all goes as currently planned, the May 7 ballot will contain, along with a pair of council elections, these 11 proposed changes to the charter:

1. Shall Sections 4.03 (g) (o) (p), 5.11 of the City Charter be amended to require submission to the qualified voters of the City to eliminate provisions which have become inoperative because they have been superseded by state law; replace obsolete references; update terminology to current legal usage, and to eliminate obsolete transitional provisions?

2. Shall Sections 3.05 of the City Charter be amended to require submission to the qualified voters of the City to add causes to remove any elected officer to also include habitual substance abuse and conviction of a misdemeanor involving a crime of moral turpitude which are crimes involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, deliberate violence, or that reflect adversely on an elected official’s honesty, trustworthiness?

3. Shall sections 4.01 and 4.03 of the City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to recommend and approve appointments to all City Boards and Commissions?

4. Shall section 4.03 (a) of the City Charter be amended to eliminate the requirement of Council confirmation on the dismissal of the Director of Finance?

5. Shall section 4.05 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that neither the Mayor or (sic) Council shall instruct the City Manager or any city employee to hire or terminate any city employee and require the mayor and council to go through the City Manager for administrative and management functions of the City?

6. Shall sections 5.02 of the City Charter be amended to move the City’s general election date for the Mayor and Councilmembers from May to November and approve a transitional provision extending terms in May 2017 and May 2018 to November 2017 and 2018?

7. Shall section 7.10 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that the City Attorney shall report to the City Manager but remain appointed by the Mayor and City Council?

8. Shall section 8.09 of the City Charter be amended to require two authorized signatures, one must be either the City Manager or Finance Director, for checks, vouchers, warrants or withdrawal of funds from city depositories?

9. Shall section 8.11 (e) of the City Charter be added so that any issuance of debt not have a repayment period greater than the life of the asset(s) being funded?

10. Shall section 8.11 (f) of the City Charter be added so that any issuance of debt or instrument of obligation exceeding 5% of the annual assessed valuation of the city shall only be issued with a binding referendum being placed on the ballot and such expenditure approved by the voters?

11. Shall section 13.10 of the City Charter be added so that all meetings, hearings and workshops of the Council, any Board, Commission or Committee of the City shall comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act and shall provide a time for public comment?

It remains to be seen if any of these proposals will engender any serious debate or controversy, although it stands to reason that any candidate running on the ballot will be asked where he or she stands on them.

The council will also vote whether to schedule public hearings March 1 and again March 15 on a proposal to annex between one to five areas of land into the city, including the Blanco River Ranch, which is almost twice as large as the other four areas combined and which, if developed as planned, would place far more stress on the city’s infrastructure than the proposed 1-acre town-home development that was rejected by the council last week because it placed too much stress on the city’s infrastructure.

The other four areas being considered for annexation border South Stagecoach Road, from the current city limits down to Yarrington Road. The other four are labeled (1) the Davenport/Bullock/Old Town area, 590 acres; (2) Driskel, North Roland Lane area, 325 acres; (3) Graef Ranch area, 169 acres; and (4) Scott Street area, 60 acres.

As usual, a citizens comment section is scheduled at the beginning of Tuesday's 7 p.m. meeting, but none of the items on the agenda include a public hearing. The complete agenda can be found here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sales tax numbers rebound somewhat

Kyle has received its January sales tax receipts, the one that probably accounts for the bulk of the Christmas shopping in the city, and those receipts, for the first time this fiscal year, exceeded projections.

The actual amount received was $477,871.33, which was 4.1 percent more than what was forecast in the FY 2015-16 city budget. It still, however, leaves the city with a $48,021.01 sales tax gap for the fiscal year, although that’s certainly an improvement over the $66,830.34 the city was facing this time last month.

Interestingly, the total sales tax revenue is an impressive 23.4 percent above what it was this same last year, which makes me wonder whether the real problem might be that our budget forecasters were a tad too optimistic -- that they just wanted too much money to spend.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sellers calls 2015 “year of team development” aimed at “raising the bar”

I had the very good fortune to sit down and chat recently with City Manager Scott Sellers to discuss his first year as Kyle’s chief operating officer. What follows is only the first segment of that conversation, a segment in which we talked primarily about his goal of making Kyle a "destination city." During the course of this conversation, he hit me with a fact I wasn’t aware of — that the proposed Hampton Inn scheduled to be built immediately south of the Hays Surgery Center just off the northbound I-35 access road will be a first for Kyle not only because it will include a meeting room with a capacity for 200 persons but will also be the first hotel in Kyle with its own self-contained restaurant.

What follows is the first installment of this conversation. My remarks are in boldface to easily distinguish my ramblings from the information provided by the city manager. Additional installments will appear soon on this blog.

Right after you came on board as city manager we talked and you told me at that time "We don’t want to be just a bedroom community. We want to be a destination, a leader in Central Texas and the state. We want to put together programs, services and policies that are looked upon as being innovative and forward thinking, that set us apart from other communities." So what "programs, services and policies" have been put in place during the last year to achieve that?
There is a list. Part of setting ourselves apart means we have to get the right team in place. We’re as good as the individuals who are advancing those programs, policies and procedures. 2015 was a year of team development. As we look at the critical positions that have come onboard during this last year I think we can see that. For example, the planning team development director, Howard Koontz, That search was exhaustive, We had many, many good candidates, qualified candidates, but part of the interview process was talking about that next level — setting the bar a little higher. We knew as a team that we didn’t want just any candidate. We wanted a candidate that could exemplify that raising the bar. Howard Koontz is a great example of that from just that one position. I could go down the list.

To set the bar as far as information — and to tell our story while we’re setting the bar — we needed a good communications specialist. We have Kim (Hilsenbeck), an editor at the paper, that came on to help.

As we developed the budget, we developed it with positions in mind, that were bar-raising positions. The events coordinator: How do we set ourselves apart as the destination? How do we, not only through policies and programs, how do we bring people out through image, through offerings to the community? And having someone internally that could help us develop those events and the quality-of-life attractions that we didn’t have prior. Someone dedicated to developing that quality-of-life attraction for us. Same thing in the interview process. We knew this was a bar-raising position for the city. So we made sure that as we went through our candidates and vetting them — and we had quite a few — that we found the right person with the experience necessary to raise the bar here.

Speaking of that, in the conversation we had this time last year you discounted the idea of events and festivals as a way of making Kyle a destination. You even referenced a chili cookoff in Kilgore and you said, even though it attracted a number of visitors, Kilgore never became well known for its chili festival. You said events were not the magnet you were looking for. Have you changed your mind?
No, I haven’t. Here’s the difference, because I appreciate you bringing that up. The chili cookoff, for example, was a three-day event and that was it. So for three days, it brought in about 10,000 people. It was a shot in the arm. So for those three days it was good. People came in. They shopped local. They stayed in hotels, but then they left. The community itself obviously took advantage of that event. There’s no doubt. For that, the event was very important. But what I would like to see as a quality of life is a community being known for attracting more than just once per year for a signature event. I would like to see more than four or five times. I would like to see constant built-in programs and events, Yes, the events coordinator probably will be looking at more of those signature events, but definitely more than once a year.

But I probably did discount it because do not think just events will set Kyle apart as the quality-of-life, raise-the-bar city that becomes elite to Central Texas? No, I don’t think events alone will do that for us. I think it’s totally a broad spectrum of all departments. When I put on my lens of citizen that what sets us apart is image, a healthy economy. As a homeowner, I can conveniently find in my city what I need. When I say "image," I mean everything from attractive signage to well manicured rights-of-ways. I’ll take that all the way to political and governmental image, just of who we are as a community. I’m even going to rack in communication to that. What sort of information is coming out of the community? People outside of Kyle who read about us, what do they think about the city? That, to me, is a package. Events are a part of the package but they’re not the final draw — they are just a piece.

So let me return to your previous question. Some of the bigger ones, the board and committee reorganization that we did during the year. I think that by the City Council moving forward to more of a board (structure) from a committee standpoint legitimized certain boards. It put control of policy back into the City Council’s court where that was diffused through a variety of committees — a dozen-plus committees. It also removed a layer of bureaucracy. It streamlined things to happen easier. I think that was a big step forward because it makes doing business with the city easier. Things don’t have to be scrubbed through a committee first — they can go straight to the decision-makers. It does streamline the processes. That was big and, as you know, somewhat controversial. But so far, we are kind of in the infancy stage of what that looks like. In the most recent council meeting, we still made amendments to that. But we’re seeing good things from that.

The PID policy was another one. Of course, it’s related more to large development but we have five or six major developments that are looking at a Public Improvement District right now. And with me walking in right in the middle of the Bunton Creek PID lawsuit, it really pushed back some of the larger developments until we could, from a city standpoint, demonstrate that we knew what we were doing and we had a policy that was going to be clear so we wouldn’t get into the same predicament that we got into with Bunton Creek. Resolving that Bunton Creek lawsuit was not easy. There was a lot of time invested in that, a lot of time. But it was resolved very well, very fairly to the homeowners. It knocked down the assessment value by $1,000 a lot, which was very big. It gave reimbursements back to those who had paid it. It set very strict standards for future PIDs that would come into the city. So now these large developments that are asking for special consideration through a PID or a MUD or whatever, they know there is additional scrutiny. But I think that helps them, too.

The charter. That was big. The Charter Review Commission, how it was put together, the things that they talked about. I think they did a very good job. The submission was good. Within the next month we’ll set the election for the charter. I think that whole process and the things that were identified for moving forward to the public were very good. I enjoyed that process.

One more thing on policy — the council rules on procedure. Those were tightened down where the council could hold themselves more accountable and, at the same time, have more latitude to move things forward and advance them on the agenda. I think it helped to remove some of the personal differences for things that were brought forward at the council level. It formalized the procedure at the dias, And hopefully, even though there’s still been evidence of disagreeing on the dias, I think now the process is more formal and more respectful. I would say it’s more open. People have can debate on how they’ve seen those changes. But I think it’s brought the council up a level.

One thing that we did do that actually has helped us internally was the citizens survey. We had a lot of good information from that. We made some pretty good decisions because of that already. We have used that in our economic development attraction. We used that, obviously, with our budget preparation. We took those citizen survey results and used them to prioritize the budget. So that was big. We created internally what I call the "brown-bag brainstorming group." That brings people together from all facets of the organization and we talk about how we can move the city forward to the next level. And we use those survey results to help guide those discussions. The KYAC (Kyle Youth Advisory Committee) group — we gave them the survey and helped them develop their survey. I wish I could say there was a direct asset — a physical feature — on the ground because of those efforts. But there will be.

In the last year on the economic development front, we have brought the community together in a way I would like to say has not been done before. We’ve had a couple of summits. I’ve relied a lot on the Strategic Plan. I’ve relied on the restructuring of the boards. But we have brought our development partners together to look at and solicit their feedback on our development regulations. We’re moving forward with more of a formalized process that we can unveil publicly to future developers. We’ve had some private discussions with developers on how to, not relax those standards, but how to make those standards conform more to the needs and wishes of the development community while at the same time preserving what we need to preserve as a community for our residents. It’s definitely a balancing act. I think that over 2015, the developers saw from the city that we were making great strides forward to be more welcoming to development as opposed to having a bureaucratic approach, a process approach, a red-tape approach. So those barriers, we have slowly been knocking down and will continue to do so.

On the Greater San Marcos Partnership, a year ago we did not have representation. We now have two people from City Hall that sit on the board. I sit on the board and Diana (Economic Development Director Diana Torres) sits on the board. We have a representative also from Austin Community College that sits on the board that did not otherwise.

Is that bearing fruit?
I think it is and the reason I was just a few minutes late to this meeting was that we were doing a retention visit with one of our local companies. And the Greater San Marcos Partnership was present. Those types of meetings were not occurring prior to 2015. And the fact that they are now is a huge step forward, not only for the city of Kyle but for the region, for the county.

ACC is big. We’ve had several conversations with them over the last year. We’re bringing them more to the table. Getting them a seat on the Greater San Marcos Partnership board was big for their presence. But they also have a seat on our Economic Development and Tourism Board. And as part of reaching out and bringing them closer in and developing a relationship, we talked about workforce development. We talked about their campus expansion and accelerating some of those plans. So developing the relationship with Austin Community College has been a really big part of 2015 that will definitely yield fruits in 2016 and years to come.

The hotel study is another big one. For many years now, Kyle has had two hotels. That was something we identified very early on in 2015 as being a problem. Trying to spark that additional hotel growth and development was important, but knowing how to do that we ultimately landed on performing this study with Jeremy Stone because of his prior work and the relationships he’s had with the hotel lodging industry. That study was very well done and we were able to take that and shop it around to different hotels. And I’m not going to say that because of that study we have another hotel that just decided to come but I do think it helped.

But that study also said Kyle could sustain a hotel that contained meeting rooms and an in-house restaurant and offer average nightly room rentals of at least $150 a night. Do you see anything like that on the horizon?
Yes. Hampton Inn is a perfect example of that. On the property where the Hampton Inn is locating they were able to very comfortably fit in one of those smaller models. Because of that hotel study and what we were saying they had to get special permission from corporate to put in one of their larger models. And we had to work with them internally on some of our regulations, loosening some of our standards. One was coming to the City Council to remove the height restriction. They will now put their larger model in there that has a large break-out room — capacity for 200 — and a restaurant. So that was a direct response to that study.

There’s another hotel right on the line. I wish I could tell you about it right now. And there are several others that are looking at us. So that was really, really an important step.

We resolved most of the lawsuits we were plagued with in 2015. There’s still a couple of others — the Aqua lawsuit — we still are working on resolving that. But we did split off the wastewater treatment plan acquisition, which was extremely valuable to the city of Kyle in 2015. We’ve been in some kind of billing dispute with Aqua since 2011 and we have not been able to control our development destiny because of that. Being able to separate the billing dispute from the plant operation was extremely important and it took some time to do. But finally we were able to separate it, purchase the plant outright and we’re now operating it. We’re working right now on looking at expansion for 2016-2017. Hopefully this billing dispute will be resolved here in this fiscal year. That, plus all the other lawsuits we’ve known about — and we’ve been fairly lawsuit heavy — most of those are off the table now. There are a couple out there still, admittedly. But by bringing that number down, we’ve removed the perception that we’re unfriendly, that we’re a city that’s litigious or have policies that are antiquated. And because of all this we’ve been able to examine our policies and make sure that they are modern, up-to-date and that they are extremely welcoming to developers. And when I say "developers," I mean economic, industrial/commercial and residential.

(The next segment of my conversation with City Manager Scott Sellers will highlight his approach to economic development. That part of the conversation — and more — will appear here soon.)