About 42 Rollingwood residents on Monday took advantage of an opportunity to chart their city’s future.
With all Comprehensive Plan Strike Force members present, chair and former Mayor Thom Farrell cited the purpose of the city’s first full comprehensive plan during a virtual town hall, noting the document’s importance as “a long-range plan on how we want our city to look and what we want out of our city.”
The group aims to guide the plan project along with consultant Pegasus Planning and Development.
Longtime resident Elizabeth Morrow advocated for the city being transparent in its process.
“I am very excited about a proactive plan for our city,” Morrow said. “I think it is really smart of us and a good idea.”
Rollingwood officials drafted a partial comprehensive plan in 1999. The new plan includes the redevelopment of Bee Cave Road, the town’s commercial sector, a move that could increase sales taxes within Rollingwood and possibly offset the city’s increasing property taxes. City Manager Amber Lewis said 80% of Rollingwood’s revenue is derived from property taxes, whereas 80% of West Lake Hills’ revenue is derived from sales taxes.
The project also will address traffic on the residential neighborhood streets as well as parks, building setbacks and heights.
Besides creating a long-range document to guide officials toward what the residents want to see in their city, the plan can serve as a measure to help retain Rollingwood’s AA bond rating, Farrell said.
During the city’s recent bond refinancing, Lewis said the city’s action toward drafting a comprehensive plan was a factor in its positive rating. The majority of Rollingwood’s revenue is derived from ad valorem taxes, a source that isn’t looked upon favorably by bond companies since property values are subject to ebbs and flows in the market, adversely affecting the financial health of the city, Farrell said. Instead, he said a diversified income source is preferred, including sales and use taxes.
Since its inception last month, Farrell said the committee formed several subcommittees: a residential group to review the city’s building code and lot changes; a Bee Cave Road group to analyze, lot by lot, all of the properties on both sides of the street; a utility group to determine the city’s water and wastewater system capacity for the redevelopment of Bee Cave Road; and a bond/tax rate group to determine the tax rate impact to residents should the city pursue plan projects requiring a bond.
At the session, some residents, including Phil McDuffee, asked the committee to review what additional infrastructure would be needed if more mixed-use properties were added to the city’s borders to compensate for the ensuing increase in population, such as police, municipal and utility services. Farrell said the committee is reviewing the issue within its subcommittees.
Resident Jeff Marx voiced concern about the correctness of the consultant’s modeling process for the commercial corridor, suggesting a third party review may be warranted. Resident John Hinton urged the group to look closely at the utility impact of the project in light of an initial draft that added a hotel and multifamily units, developments now lacking in the city.
“Rollingwood has limited water and wastewater resources,” he said.
The city purchases its water and wastewater services from the city of Austin, and the amount of water available to purchase is subject to be reduced by Austin during a drought, Hinton said. He asked committee members to analyze the impact of this contract and to prioritize the rights of Rollingwood’s existing utility customers, both commercial and residential.
Both Hinton and Farrell said extra capacity exists in the system but didn’t know the effect a severe drought would cause for users.
Resident Elizabeth Day addressed the possible decrease in the current 100-foot buffer setback between the Bee Cave Road commercial corridor and homes abutting the area, with some homes grandfathered by a 30-foot setback. She also questioned the appraised property value impact of an expanded commercial area on adjoining residential tracts.
“If we increase our population by 50% or we double it, and all these new residents vote, the single family homeowner’s voice in the nature of our community is going to be extremely reduced,” Day said.
Along with Kevin Glasheen, Marx praised the strike force for its efforts to “shed a lot of light on what’s going on” regarding the comprehensive plan.
In July, Pegasus principal Sean Garretson presented three development or zoning scenarios, in addition to a base scenario for current conditions, that illustrated higher density, mixed-use developments through residential, commercial and retail properties. The proposal to upzone the Bee Cave Road corridor by changing the area’s zoning to allow greater density or commercial use aims to increase both property and sales tax revenue as well as meet residents’ demand for more retail, Garretson said at the time.
According to Mayor Michael Dyson, the city currently has nearly $30 million worth of deferred maintenance.
In August, city officials delayed the plan’s due date from September to the first quarter of 2021.
Although the city requested the plan be completed by March, Farrell said he doesn’t want to rush the project and desires to include as much citizen input as possible. He said he intends to send out a second citizen survey after many speakers stated that this summer’s initial comprehensive plan survey inadequately expressed their thoughts.
Committee member David Raymond said, based on recent correspondence, residents want limited involvement by Pegasus in the process; limited residential and commercial growth; no high density; no high-rise construction; and better restaurants and shops. He said the new survey should be the guiding force in the process from this point on.
“We don’t want Rollingwood to be Austin,” Raymond said. “One of the things that really pushes Rollingwood’s value is its proximity to Austin but then you can get away from it. I can go 20 minutes and walk into Zilker or get in an Uber and be in Austin for 10 minutes and have my Austin experience. And then I can leave and come back to Rollingwood and have our experience which, to me, is a great value. And, that’s something that I want to protect.”
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