Cleburne council members, during the workshop section of their Tuesday meeting, discussed the challenge of non-conforming city lots as well as the opportunities they present.
The challenge, Director of Community Development Shane Pace said, is to find a way to employ the lots to incentivise in fill development throughout the city’s aging areas.
Plenty exist, more than 1,200 throughout the city.
“Staff receives regular inquires to build new homes on existing lots that do not meet the minimum requirements of single-family zoning district,” Pace said. “Many of these lots are not legally platted so they do not qualify as a lot of record, and are most often a portion of adjacent lots.”
Most of the lots were conveyed by deed without going through the platting process and most have existed in their current configuration for decades, Pace said.
The lots though potentially developable are in many instances, because of size and existing zoning requirements, not eligible to be legally platted.
The idea, Pace said, is not to cram as many houses as possible in but rather to continue to promote the recent spurt of growth in historic Cleburne neighborhoods several of which had not experienced much in the way of new home building for decades.
“How did this come about?” City Manager Steve Polasek said. “We’ve had a lot of lots struck off to the city. The first ones, the ones of 7,000 square feet or more, were the low-hanging fruit and the easy ones to sell. But the list is getting small and we’re getting down to the challenging lots.”
Such lots are also under current city regulations hard to dispose of in instances where a family member inherits one of the lots in question and wishes to sell it.
Polasek and Pace recommended several ordinance changes that would help render the lots salable. Ideas touted included waiver of plat requirements and impact fees.
Council took no action on the issue but voiced support of doing so in the near future.
“I’m excited,” Mayor Scott Cain said. “This could be another step forward in continuing to revitalize our old historic neighborhoods. We need to leave no neighborhood behind as we move forward.”
Should council bite, the new rules would apply only to non-conforming already existing. Developers, in other words, could not purchase a larger lot to divide into smaller lots to build more homes.
Council members approved amendment of the city’s public works ordinance section dealing with pass through rates for treated water service from the Brazos River Authority. Council members also broached the topic, first touched upon in 2015, of whether it is in the city’s best interest to maintain certain rights to water the city has no current access to. Council members discussed but took no action on the latter matter.
BRA’s long-term strategic plan calls an annual increase of about 3.5 percent on contractual water rights contracts, Finance Director Troy Lestina said.
“This ordinance allows staff to calculate the appropriate rate increased to pass through to the city’s water customers,” Lestina said. “Annually, staff will determine the total dollar amount of BRA’s increase and divide that amount by the number of accounts then divide that amount by 12 to determine the monthly base rate increase. This base rate would apply to all customers regardless of meter size.
“BRA has annual budgeted rate increases in order to pay for future planned infrastructure of the BRA system.”
In the coming fiscal year, which begins Tuesday, that translates into an across-the-board increase of 34 cents per month.
Lake Pat Cleburne provides the city’s primary source of water. Cleburne also holds 5,300 acre feet of water rights in Lake Aquilla and 9,700 in Lake Whitney. The Aquilla rights cost the city $418,700 this year and will cost $434,600 next year. Whitney rights cost $766,300 this year but will increase to $795,400 next.
Both lakes are components of BRA’s system.
Cleburne uses Aquilla as a supplemental raw water source. The city, however, lacks current access to Whitney nor does it have the ability to clean or use that lake’s water.
Other options have come to light since those contracts were entered into, Polasek said, including a planned reuse loop which will make available a substantial amount of Lake Pat water.
Polasek said a discussion probably needs to be held in the next few months to determine whether it’s in the city’s best interest to maintain the Whitney rights.
Cain expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s important that we maintain safety nets when it comes to our water supply,” Cain said. “But, if we have alternatives now that we didn’t then, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay $800,000 a year for water we don’t have access to.”
The city of Abilene in 2015 requested to lease those water rights from Cleburne, a request Cain and then Councilman Dale Sturgeon called a fiscally responsible move to save money. Others on the council at that time disagreed, however, and the request was twice voted down.
Cain at the time expressed frustration. He said the $675,000 Abilene had proposed to pay Cleburne over five years — an amount decreased to $400,000 per year for five years to lease 75 percent of Cleburne’s rights after the first vote failed - could have funded numerous city water projects.
Council members who voted against the request at the time cited fears that Abilene might law claim to the water rights and/or tie Cleburne up in litigation after the five year term. This despite the fact that representatives from both cities included language in the proposal explicitly stating that Abilene has no rights to and would lay no claims to Cleburne’s water right beyond the term of the then proposed 5-year contract.
Cleburne’s water rights contract with BRA to Whitney and Aquilla expire in 2032. Then Cleburne Public Works Director Courtney Coates said that, through conversations with BRA officials, it appears unlikely those contracts will be extended. Courtney in 2015 said that current city plans don’t call for accessing the Whitney water via pipeline until sometime between 2025 to 2035.
The original contracts between Cleburne and BRA date to 1993, 1997 and 2008. City officials in 2015 who supported Abilene’s request to lease the water rights said that Cleburne has essentially paid BRA hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in regards to Whitney for basically nothing.
Hilltop Securities representative Jim Sabonis outlined details of a proposed $47 million bond package to go toward expansion of the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the west loop reuse project. About $5.5 million of that amount will come from repurposed unspent bonds issued for future Lake Whitney projects. Another $1 million will be forgiven courtesy of a green subsidy the city received.
Both projects are necessary, city officials said, to ensure an ample water supply for Cleburne in the years ahead.
Council took no action on the bond proposal but plan to revisit it next month when they will likely begin the application process in order to take advantage of favorable interest rates.