HILL COUNTRY VILLAGE — Plans for developing a tract on Bitters Road owned by the city aren’t showing much movement in spite of discussions, meetings and organizational sessions held the past two years.

During two gatherings — a Sept. 22 town-hall meeting and an Oct. 11 City Council/Zoning Commission session— residents and city leaders reviewed several possible uses for the land, ranging from residential, building a new City Hall on the lot, rezoning for commercial use or doing nothing.

Similar discussions took place in 2014 about the 14 acres at South Tower Drive and Bitters. Even after the latest meetings, the city has not decided on a final plan.

Zoning Commissioner Kirk Francis said the city has been “kicking that football down the road a long time; (they) need to make a decision.”

Suggestions about rezoning the land as commercial have met with opposition from some residents. During the Sept. 22 gathering, zoning commissioner and former chairman George Blasko said the idea had been tabled.

George Dennis said rezoning the tract as commercial was a “blood-pressure deal” for him, because his yard is adjacent to the property. When he bought his house in 1997, he was told the surrounding area would never be commercial, Dennis said.

“You’re going to gut my property value. My wife and I are talking about moving out of the Village, putting our house up for sale before that happens so that we don’t lose a quarter of a million dollars,” Dennis said Sept. 22. “I just think that I moved here for the same reason you did: to enjoy the quietness of my property, to have this little gem.”

The city purchased the land in 1999 for $700,000, with the idea a new City Hall would be located there.

But those plans for a municipal complex were put on hold. Today the land is zoned for three residential lots, about 4.5 acres apiece.

The City Council last year selected Five Star Development in Arizona to evaluate possible uses.

“We selected a developer to help us assess options on Bitters, nowhere else,” said  Mayor Gabriel Durand-Hollis at the town-hall meeting. “No agreements have been signed, because we were hearing different perspectives and comments about Bitters.”

Five Star envisioned the tract as the site of a small grocery store, a drug store and several local shops and office spaces, while keeping in mind the city’s No. 1 criteria: Keeping the development’s impact on neighboring lots to a minimum.

The development team also sketched out green spaces and buffers such as fences and landscaping. Two years earlier, city leaders suggested attracting businesses to the site to help beef up sales taxes in the landlocked city, which is primarily residential.

Also, at the Oct. 11 meeting, the mayor asked design firm LPA Inc. to look into what it would take to put a new City Hall on the tract.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Elizabeth Worley sent a letter to residents June 24 that outlined ways the city could use the land. She detailed various options considered by the council during the year, including:

n Retain ownership and keep the land as it is. This option, however, does not generate any revenue.

n Sell the lots as currently platted and zoned for three 4.5-acre residential lots. “The sale would bring in an estimated $1.5 million. Assuming each of the three future buyers puts a $500,000 house on their lot, those three properties would generate property tax revenue to the city of $1,377 apiece annually. Initial sale: $1.5 million. Annual revenue: $4,132,” according to Worley’s missive.

n Rezone the lots to R-1, a residential category that allows for six 2-acre residential lots, doubling the number of houses from the previous option. Worley said the initial sale at $1.5 million could generate about $8,265 in property taxes.

n Rezone the lots for 1-acre residential parcels, with a green belt facing Bitters to protect those lots from the busy thoroughfare. “This option would require a zoning change, and would require allowing lots smaller than 2 acres in Hill Country Village,” Worley said. “Imagine 10 one-acre lots with a $400,000 house on each lot. Initial sale: $1.5 million. Annual revenue: $5,800.”

n Rezone the lots for garden homes and sell the land to a residential developer to build 50 2,000-square-foot garden homes, each on a lot of about .2 acres, with an expected value of $300,000 apiece, similar to the Enclave at Hollywood Park or the Gardens of Hollywood Park, Worley noted. “This option, too, would require a zoning change. Initial sale: $2 million. Annual revenue: $21,750.”

n Rezone the land as commercial, with the city keeping ownership and signing a land lease for commercial development. “The city would have a continued revenue stream from the lease of the land and from the sales tax generated by new businesses. The city would retain the right to decide what stores or restaurants go into the development,” Worley told residents. “We’ve been told the land-lease alone would bring in about $500,000 annually. Add onto that figure the projected sales tax revenue of approximately $300,000. Initial sale: $0. Annual revenue: $800,000.”

The next council meeting is 5 p.m. Nov. 17.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *