Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Part 2: The city’s responsibility
By Cyndi Wright
December 20, 2010
Part 2 of this series examines what the City of Bastrop can do regarding regulating development, such as the proposed Central Texas Airport, inside its extra-territorial jurisdiction.
The City of Bastrop’s ETJ stretches west from the city almost to the Travis County line. That’s a lot of area for hungry developers to contemplate turning into profitable growth.
For Mayor Terry Orr, there are many things to consider when a developer comes knocking – much of it revolving around compatibility.
“Is it compatible with the area around it – as far as other businesses and residential?” he asked. “Is it compatible with federal, state, county and city regulations? And last, but not least, is it compatible with the environment?”
And another important part of the equation is getting as much input as possible from the citizens who might be impacted by the development.
“The city does not do its business in a back room,” he said. “We would have full public hearings about something of any magnitude.”
According to city manager Mike Talbot, the city has some means for controlling and regulating the development in those areas.
The developers of the Central Texas Airport have asked the city to approve the implementation of various special districts for the project, which will allow them to recoup private funds used to develop infrastructure within the project, such as roads and utilities, by imposing a tax on residents inside the boundaries of the district.
“By law, we can be intimately involved in the creation of any special district that is located in the city’s ETJ,” Talbot said. “But, if the city and the developer are not able to reach an agreement about the district’s formation and future operation, then the developer can go to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the attorney general.”
Alternatively, if the developer does not want to go though the process either with the TCEQ or the city, directly, it may attempt to have special legislation adopted by the State Legislature to create the district. That process generally happens after a developer has already obtained some form of agreement from within the county, city or city ETJ.
There are at least two tools the city has in its box to help regulate such development, according to Talbot, including giving its blessing, or consent, to the creation of a special district, which is a process required by state law, and negotiating a mutually-acceptable developer’s agreement, such as the one the city entered into with XS Ranch – the 7,000-unit housing development to be located on Texas 95.
“A developer’s agreement was the approach we took with XS Ranch,” Talbot said. “The XS Ranch developer felt it was more expeditious to work thorough the city, rather than going the TCEQ route. We sat down and reached a consensus. There was give and take on both sides.”
XS Ranch is a large Municipal Utility District that may be divided into smaller MUDs in the future, all of which are inside its boundaries..
Two weeks ago, Carpenter and Associates, the lead developer on the airport project, approached the city council and asked for their blessing on developing a special district related to the airport project
“They were asking for approval to move forward on their project as a special district,” Talbot said. “They were also seeking the city’s consent for the plan to extend the boundaries of a water control district that is now located solely in another county into Bastrop County.”
A water control district is another taxing entity.
According to Talbot, the city council declined to take immediate action on the matter, instead asking for more time to consider the details of the proposed project and for an agreement to work jointly with the developer on the process.
“We need more information and time to evaluate this,” he said.
If it’s anything like the process XS Ranch went through with this city council, which took two years, that evaluation and negotiation could be fairly exhaustive – and expensive. According to Talbot, the city sent back a reply to the airport developer’s request, asking that the developer bear any cost the city incurs consulting with professionals to determine the feasibility of the project and the city’s role in approving it, so that the citizens of the city aren’t asked to bear the cost that is generated solely by the developers project. It’s the same agreement the city had with the developers of XS Ranch.
“We do take our ETJ very seriously,” Mayor Orr said. “We do cooperate with developers. They provide funding for our independent reviews.”
So far, however, there has been no reply from Carpenter and Associates.