Candidate for Georgetown Mayor Josh Schroeder believes, when it comes to managing growth in Georgetown, it is important to recognize there are limited options. “The key is understanding that growth will happen in and around Georgetown. We only get to choose whether we manage the growth within our city limits and extra-territorial jurisdiction, or we can choose to allow it to continue unchecked right outside our city limits. I believe the best approach is to bring development under our control and manage it appropriately.”
Schroeder explains, due to where the large tracts of undeveloped land are right now, most growth could legally occur outside city limits, so the city must decide either to incorporate it, or just let it happen right outside their doorstep and have no say in what it looks like. “When people talk about capping population growth, or a moratorium on building permits, they fail to understand that we legally can’t just do that in the state of Texas. And even if we could shut down growth, it would just result in giant subdivisions that would encircle the city, and they could do whatever they want without our say. We can either watch it happen or we can manage it.”
HOW DO WE MANAGE IT ?
Schroeder agrees that new growth can and should pay for itself, but there is a balance to be struck. “Developers pay for and build all of the infrastructure in their neighborhoods; parks, roads, water, sewer, internet, gas, and electric.
When they complete the project, they turn all of it over to the city. In addition, the developers pay impact fees to the city. Those fees represent the cost to the city to operate, maintain, and replace all of the sewers and plants, roads and traffic changes, and parks, perpetually.”
For example, developers are required to provide a study on the traffic impact of all new neighborhoods, and, based upon that study, the city requires the developer to pay an impact fee per residential lot, in addition to the roads that the developer must build to accommodate the new residences. One of the major changes to the development code that could occur in the near future is a significant increase in traffic impact fees, and be a set fee per lot.
“What many people don’t realize, and a big part of the affordable housing debate, is that these impact fees are about having quality homes and neighborhoods, but there is nothing a city mandates for a developer that is not ultimately paid for by the homeowner. A good rule of thumb is this: for every $10,000 in city-mandated fees, the cost of the home goes up $40,000 because the developer paid that fee for dozens or hundreds of homes, took the risk, and carried the cost (and interest) with a bank. He passed that cost to the builder, who then carried the risk and interest until the home was purchased. The costs just multiply down the chain. We want people to be able to afford to live here, and having good streets and parks is what brings them here. We just have to ensure our regulatory requirements don’t price them out of the market. This is just one illustration of the difficulty in calibrating competing interests for every single project that comes before the city.”
Another important aspect of development, Schroeder says, is preserving commercial corridors in new developments. “As managers of growth, the city has to require that developers reserve some portion of their land for commercial use. Commercial development not only adds revenue to the city budget via property tax, but most commercial development also generates sales tax revenue for the city. In our city’s budget, sales tax revenue is almost double the revenue generated by property taxes. It is in our best interest as a city to make sure we build and keep sales tax revenue-generating properties.”
He also points out that it is beneficial to spread those commercial properties throughout the city to maintain appropriate traffic flow and provide convenience to residents all over the city; i.e., nearby drycleaners and grocery stores. “We love our downtown Square and Wolf Ranch, but it is just good planning to distribute restaurants and retail centers throughout the city for better access and to promote small business success.”
The third leg of managing growth is to maintain high quality development standards. Details for minimum lot sizes, street widths, landscaping requirements, building design, and building material standards are what drive values up in our neighborhoods. “We don’t want homes that are poorly made, but we don’t want the cheapest house in town to be unaffordable either. We are having a vigorous debate in the community about affordable housing, and those who advocate for it need to recognize it is almost impossible to maintain high building standards and affordability at the same time. For everything we regulate, we raise the cost of housing. And if we over-regulate developers and builders, they will just build somewhere else, and that can also impact affordability.”
Properly managing growth is a benefit to homeowners, because the value of a home increases when it is well built in a quality neighborhood surrounded by other well built homes. “People are sitting on bigger assets than they realize, and taxpayers should not feel victimized by the fact that our town is not just growing, but growing in value. People should not want to live in a place where property values are decreasing. That only creates a spiral of lower tax revenues, no money to make the city a nice place to live, fewer people desire to live here, fewer home sales, and so on. Eventually, it creates a de- pressed and empty town.”
Schroeder believes the city should constantly be reviewing its development code and individ- ual development applications for what is in the best interest of the community as a whole.
He explains that much of the growth we see today is thanks to the hard work of our city leaders over the past decades. “It was not long ago that our city leaders were working extremely hard to get development going in Georgetown. We need to respect the work that came before us, build nice neighborhoods that are compliant with our high standards, and continue to draw people here with good schools, a vibrant Square, and a reputation for outstanding public safety. Smart development will serve to ensure we have access to all the other things that make a com- munity great, which will allow us to demand high quality, in a positive spiral of growth and prosperity