There’s a powder keg but no spark in the upcoming Leander City Council election, in which five candidates quietly vying for one seat haven’t made a fuss out of their differing views on how to spur development.
One of Leander’s high-priority areas is the district around the Capital Metro station, where the city hopes to plant mixed-use development, but so far, has only been able to lock down agreements with housing developers.
“It’s a significant amount of land, developable land within the city, and it has very long-term implications for our tax base, revenue generation, quality of life,” City Manager Kent Cagle said.
Whoever wins the Place 4 council seat will join the body that’s guided development in the area by setting rules, approving new roadways and utilities, and hiring a firm to help Leander market itself to retailers and developers at conventions.
Ron Abruzzese, who chairs the Leander Planning and Zoning Commission, said he sees the construction of Austin Community College’s Leander campus near the rail station, which has been pushed back after the college postponed holding a bond election, as the primary driver of growth. In the short term, as the city waits for the college to come, Abruzzese said he favors offering tax breaks and would like to bring in a department store.
One of his opponents, Realtor and retired army officer Dan Michie, echoed these sentiments.
“That’s just something you have to work on,” Michie said of development in the rail area. “Maybe we could do a tax break, to get them to come into the city. We do need to do something to get more businesses in there or else we’ll lose them to Cedar Park.”
But Bob Hanson, who finished third in the May 2012 race that current Mayor Chris Fielder won, and Randy Caldwell, who lost last year to current council member David Siebold, want to rattle things up a little more.
Hanson said the sort of mixed-use development the city wants to see will keep away businesses that want more freedom in constructing the buildings that house them.
“We certainly need different codes to allow more liberal building practices,” said Hanson, who owns land in the development district.
Though Caldwell supports mixed-use development, he agreed there are too many zoning restrictions that need to be rolled back.
“It’s down to what kind of trees can be there,” Caldwell said, adding, “A lot of big companies spend billions of dollars on branding, like McDonald’s and the golden arches, and they (city officials) don’t allow signs.”
Fielder said the council is prepared to make concessions to developers, and that the city is negotiating with a developer who couldn’t comply with a code regarding building height.
The fifth candidate, Jerry Perez, who has run for council twice in the past two years, did not return multiple calls for this story.
The candidates interviewed, except for Hanson, agreed on one point: The city has bent over backward to lure developers and businesses in the past. Abruzzese and Michie picked on the council’s decision to grant Randalls a waiver worth more than $100,000 for certain fees and permission for big landscaping changes.
“Some of that money could have been used to put on sidewalks on other parts of the city,” Abruzzese said. “I didn’t think we absolutely had to do that.”
Only two candidates have any campaign funds, according to the latest campaign finance filings. Michie has spent $288.93 and Abruzzese has spent $1,130.24, according to the filings.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will compete in a run-off that is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 17, city secretary Debbie Haile said.
The council seat was vacated when Michell Cantwell resigned to run for Williamson County treasurer, and the term expires in May 2015 along with three other seats, including the mayor’s, Haile said. Council members are unpaid, she said.
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What he wants to see the city accomplish: “I’d like better balance between residential and commercial development. Right now, residential development is running the show. We could expand the tax base with more commercial development, which gives the city more freedom to actually pay for things that would give them the flexibility to address growth.”
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What he wants to see the city accomplish: “Getting retail development brought to the city. … My view of the city’s growth would be primarily in the T.O.D. (transit oriented development) in the city there, primarily the 2,300 acres around the train station.”
What he wants to see the city accomplish: “The city of Leander needs to bring a solid base of businesses to the city to share the cost of water and the expense of staff and upkeep of the city government. … The way things have gone, we’re not going to be able to be extremely picky. We need to bring the major corporations in that want to come in, the Walmarts, the Costcos, all the restaurant franchises.”
What he wants to see the city accomplish: “I would really like to reduce our tax rate, it’s the highest of any city around here. I’d like to take a look at the budget, see where we can make cuts. … The golf course doesn’t break even, it loses $100,000 a year, and taxpayers have to cover it. … We gave the city manager a raise, and we need to consider why we’re doing that.”
Editor’s note: The fifth candidate, Jerry Perez, 50, who does maintenance work, did not respond to interview requests for this article.