September 13, 2016

Council approves long-range plan

Council approves long-range plan aimed at reining in sprawl, making Waco walkable

A comprehensive planning process lasting nearly three years culminated in Waco City Council’s unanimous vote Tuesday for the City Plan.

The plan, which passed on the first two required readings, will guide growth, infrastructure and economic development through 2040, with “sustainability” as its watchword.

Bill Falco, former planning director who has shepherded the long-range plan, told the council that sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.”

While the plan welcomes growth with a projection of more than 1 percent a year through 2040, Falco said the development patterns of the last few decades are “not sustainable over the long term.” He projected a map showing a constellation of developments scattered over the county and warned that more sprawl would create traffic and high service costs for the city.

The plan calls for strong efforts to rebuild the inner city, but it also envisions compact “cluster” developments on the outskirts of the city that could preserve open space and allow efficient service delivery.

“It’s a balance between having a healthy downtown and still having growth in suburban and rural areas,” he said.

The comprehensive plan is not binding in itself but will have to be translated into action through ordinances and investment decisions. The plan was last updated in 2000 but will be updated every five years moving forward.

The plan calls for new fees to help new development pay for itself, including citywide stormwater drainage fees and possibly impact fees, which would be paid by developers to offset the cost of infrastructure.

The document urges economic development officials to work on bringing jobs to the inner city and to think about public transportation to employment centers and day care sites.

The City Plan endorses a new bus rapid-transit system organized around an express backbone line down Franklin Avenue. It envisions major improvements in sidewalks, street trees and bike lanes and calls for “context-sensitive design” for streets that recognizes the needs of pedestrians, small businesses and residents, not just motorists.

Councilwoman Alice Rodriguez said she was intrigued by a sentence that proposed using walkways along creeks as a way to stitch neighborhoods together.

“I see Primrose Creek, Waco Creek and Barron’s Branch, and I think we need to hunker down and think about this,” Rodriguez said. “It would really create a neighborhood-friendly environment for the city and for folks to come to visit our town.”

Councilman Jim Holmes, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council two months ago, said he is most excited by the plan’s vision for a vibrant downtown.

“We’re looking at, how do you create a whole new lifestyle downtown?” Holmes said in an interview. “Now we’re seeing downtown becoming a tourist attraction. That’s something that people had not really thought about before.”

Councilman Dillon Meek said the City Plan reflects a lot of work by planners and the whole community.

“I want to thank you for your efforts to include the public in the process and your efforts to engage the community,” Meek said to city planners. “I’m grateful the community turned out. I was impressed with the diversity of the attendees.”

In other business Tuesday, the council approved a $292 million budget for fiscal year 2016-17 that will be supported by a tax rate of 77.62 cents per $100 valuation, which is unchanged from the current year. The council will vote on the tax rate at a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Waco Convention Center’s Bosque Theatre.

 

Source: Waco Tribune

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