Hat Creek Code Irregularities

This is a letter to the Williamson County Sun published this weekend in the June 10 edition. It was a request for the Sun to ask some hard-hitting questions about several irregularities in the Hat Creek application. The Sun made a response immediately below the letter. Both letter and response are reproduced below (with minor editing for spelling and grammar in the Sun’s response).

Code inconsistencies

There are many disturbing irregularities about the Hat Creek drive-through proposal, and I hope the Sun will investigate them all. Four councilmen make it clear that they care nothing for the townspeople’s concerns and instead will pursue their own dubious ends. But perhaps the law can stop them.

Our Unified Development Code (UDC) plainly tells the council how it must treat a special use permit application, as citizens can easily see for themselves by accessing the code from the city’s web site at georgetown.org. Chapter 3 tells the council to “reasonably determine” that there will be no significant negative impact from granting the permit. Indeed, the staff presentation to council on page 5 supplies the controlling Section 3.07.030(C) in full, along with criteria council may use to conduct its review. But as we discovered on May 22nd, the council majority voters preferred the simplicity of their own personal opinions, and hearsay constituents whose names and statements they failed to enter to the public record, rather than the hard work of obeying the law and making a serious investigation.

Another irregularity: how could this application even come to council when it was incomplete? Section 3.07.030(B) requires the applicant’s conceptual site plan to contain numerous features of detail, including dimensions, before staff can send it forward with a recommendation for approval. But as we only learned later, at the HARC hearing on May 24th, the application was missing much of this very detail that the UDC demands. Can staff explain this to council? Certainly council should investigate this at the next reading.

But can there be a second reading if the first vote was actually not in favor? Section 3.06.020(E) requires a three-fourths majority council vote when a zoning map amendment has been denied by the Planning & Zoning Commission, as this special-use permit application was. Is a special use permit a zoning map amendment as contemplated by our UDC? There was no discussion of any of this at council. And with regard to state law, the neighbors around the Hat Creek site have pressed their own allegations of wrongdoing based on Section 211.006 of the Texas Local Government Code, which also calls for a three-fourths majority vote, for other reasons.

With apparent disregard for the law, and unmistakable disregard for the concerns of the people, what are we to think about these four councilmen? And what of Hat Creek, asking for both the favor of a special use permit from council and, as we now learn, the favor of an exception by HARC from the Master Plan laws because its design doesn’t meet the downtown requirements?

These four councilmen have shown they will not listen to the people. If democracy is broken at the council, then we must turn to the press. Will these councilmen answer these questions if asked by the Sun?

Ross Hunter
Walnut Street

Sun response:

We have been asking these same questions. Here is what we’ve been hearing: In conversations with the Sun, city staff has argued that many of Mr. Hunter’s objections – the same shared by other residents in opposition to the project – are based on differing interpretations of the city’s ordinances. Designed to protect the standards and values that Georgetown residents have collectively adopted, the city’s written codes act as, what one city staffer characterized as, ‘the bible’ of city planning. It is the role of staff and appointed citizen commissions to assist the elected council members in interpreting the document accurately. But, ultimately, that interpretation lies with the council.

In the case of Hat Creek’s special-use permit, city staff, nearby residents, appointed commissioners and the city’s elected leaders all disagreed on how closely the project met the city’s municipal codes.

Mr. Hunter cites Section 3.07.030(C) of the city’s Uniform Development Code, which requires that council must “reasonably determine” that granting Hat Creek the special-use permit would not result in a significant negative impact on the members of the community. That, staff said, is a determination that while guided by objective information – such as property value projections and traffic studies – comes down to the subjective definition of what “reasonable” or “significant” means to each council member.

The same could be said for the assertion that council should have rejected the request because the applicant presented differing site plans at several open meetings. Section 3.07.030(B) requires that applicants include a conceptual site plan when applying for a special permit. That carries certain criteria, but it does not function as a final site model for construction. On May 24, the city’s Historic and Architectural Review Commission asked developers to return with more accurate information – including dimensions – before they’d agree to approve the design. Council could have done the same, but they chose to accept the conceptual design as presented.

Residents have also stated that the Planning and Zoning Commission’s unanimous rejection of the special-permit request should have required a three-fourths majority vote by the council. Section 3.06.020(B) requires supermajority approval if P&Z unanimously denies a zoning amendment, but Hat Creek’s special permit did not qualify as a zoning amendment. The area’s designation remains the same, still allowing mixed-use office, commercial and residential space.

 

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