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2007-09-13

City master plan on P&Z’s horizon

By Judith Pannebaker

It began with traded barbs, but by the time a joint workshop of the Bandera City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission ended, members of both groups had reached an understanding - of sorts.

The Wednesday, Sept. 5, workshop was called to “clear the air” after planning and zoning commissioners expressed displeasure at what they perceived as Mayor Denise Griffin’s attempt to stifle them - or at least the planning aspect of their joint commission. It also became apparent the meeting would determine if city council could squeeze a master plan document out of commissioners.

When the smoke cleared, commission members agreed to begin preliminary “legwork” that would lead to eventual adoption of a preliminary master plan for the city - a charge, Griffin claimed, that had been on their collective plates since 2005.

Referring to guidelines from the Texas Municipal League, P&Z Commissioner Robert Koimn read, “While it is not the responsibility of the P&Z commission to prepare the plan, the commission should have a high level of involvement in terms of review and comment during development of the plan and should ultimately recommend adoption of the plan prior to council adoption.”

Griffin countered with a quote from the Bandera City Code, which stated, “It shall be (the planning and zoning commission’s) duty to make and recommend for adoption a master plan.”

The revelation baffled P&Z commissioners, who were apparently unaware of the code - as were most members of the city council.
In his controversial memo that began the brouhaha, city attorney Monte Akers of Austin’s Akers & Boulware-Wells, LLP, also failed to reference or quote from the city code. Among other items, however, the memo chastised commissioners for not complying with “repeated requests” from Griffin, city council and City Administrator Gene Foerster to “prepare a master plan” for the city.

“In all the city council minutes I’ve reviewed, I’ve never uncovered one official request from the council that called for P&Z to prepare a master plan,” Koimn said. He also noted that neither he nor his colleagues had the expertise or time needed to complete a master plan. A complete plan requires engineering and surveying, a series of public meetings and sophisticated computer modeling, among other preparations, he indicated.

In addition, a comprehensive plan, Koimn said, should include land use planning in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and surrounding areas, transportation mobility studies, infrastructure and capital campaign assessment, water and wastewater considerations, park and green space dedication and projections for future educational needs.

“The commission doesn’t have the hundreds of hours necessary to devote to do the work necessary for a master plan,” he contended.

Mayor Pro Tem Monica Halsey said, “We just need something basic to go forward on.”

“A comprehensive plan is just that - a comprehensive plan,” Koimn replied flatly. “Do you want amateurs doing a city master plan that it would go by for the next 20 years?” he asked.

Halsey persisted, “We don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a plan, but feel we must do what we can and we don’t feel it’s being done. If you don’t believe you’re capable of doing a plan, why do we have you?”

Echoing Halsey, Griffin said, “We don’t need a P&Z, (city council) could do a master plan itself.”

“You’re all just as unqualified as we are,” Koimn noted.

During the discussion, Foerster revealed that $36,000 had been budgeted in fiscal year 2007-2008 for a comprehensive master plan.

Griffin suggested that if planning and zoning commissioners would begin preliminary work on the master plan, request for proposals (RFPs) could go out “to find someone to pull the legwork together.” She added, “(The P&Z commission’s) vision is what the city needs to focus on for the future.”

P &Z Chairman Jim Hannah suggested that commissioners put together an outline based on master plans available in the Bandera County Public Library, including one recently adopted by the City of Boerne - at a cost of over $100,000 and 18 months’ work.

Supporting Hannah’s plan, Griffin recommended that the commission fine tune the plans and present them to city council. “That way, you’d have a beginning point and get something accomplished in the next fiscal year,” she said. Akers agreed to Griffin’s request that he draft an RFP to go out for bids and select a consultant to complete a comprehensive master plan for the City of Bandera.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Councilman Horst Pallaske stated the obvious, saying to commissioners, “I guess you all know now we officially want you to do the master plan.”