What lies ahead for downtown Buda is set to be determined in the coming months.
The development of a downtown master plan aimed at breathing new life into the historic district entered its first phase in January, as the city began seeking input from the public.
From January to June, town hall meetings will be called, surveys conducted and focus groups polled to get a pulse on the community’s desires with regard to aesthetic, policy, operating and marketing improvements.
“The whole idea is to drive conversations,” said Chance Sparks, director of planning for the city of Buda. “It’s the community putting together a plan. We are merely facilitating it.”
The master plan process considers the historic district along Main and Railroad streets as well as along Goforth Road but will also take into consideration the adjacent residential areas.
“It is critical to consider these areas in the context of downtown to better understand the relationship they have with downtown and their role in the future as it pertains to the vitality of downtown Buda,” the city’s comprehensive plan states.
In October, City Council procured consulting firm Halff Associates to put together the downtown road map.
The consulting firm was selected for its familiarity with Buda. The group provided consulting services in connection to the city’s 2030 comprehensive plan, adopted in October 2011.
The document serves as the framework from which the vision for future strategies springs and includes several elements such as transportation, for which the city completed a master plan last year.
Also among the recommendations of the comprehensive plan was the creation of a master plan to guide future development downtown and to establish the historic district as the “heart of the community.”
As with any master plan, the downtown road map will serve as a living document, subject to change to suit the will of the community, Sparks said.
While concrete components—such as the widening of sidewalks, parking improvements and streetscaping—will be part of the planning process, the downtown plan does not set in stone what changes ultimately will be made.
The downtown master plan will comprise five different components: physical changes such as aesthetic and infrastructural improvements, marketing strategies, operational changes, measures of success and regulatory changes—largely code and zoning issues.
Prefacing this process was the adoption in December of new noise restrictions in the city.
Downtown establishments, such as Tavern on Main and Cleveland’s, have benefited from looser liquor laws, which were approved by voters in 2012.
Live music became more prevalent with the rollout of relaxed alcohol laws in downtown Buda, but nearby residents voiced concern the amplified music was too loud.
Tommy Poer, a longtime Buda resident, said she tolerates noise from passing trains but believes amplified music coming from downtown establishments has caused a “nuisance” for nearby dwellers.
“I can’t see where this noise outside is going to revitalize downtown,” she said at a Dec. 3 City Council meeting.
The ordinance limits the decibel levels during the day to 63 decibels in residential areas, 70 in commercial areas and 80 in industrial areas.
Decibel levels at night are stricter, with 56 the maximum in residential areas, 63 in commercial areas and 65 in industrial areas.
Noise restrictions are likely to enter the discussion as the public input process gets underway. Tavern on Main owner Julie Renfro said she has “every confidence that [the ordinance] will be revisited.”
Renfro said she does not believe the ordinance should be repealed, but the restrictions established in residential areas are “completely unrealistic.”
“You cannot have a children’s birthday party spill out onto your yard and stay within those numbers,” she said. “It is impossible.”
Mayor Todd Ruge, who lives within earshot of downtown, voted against the noise ordinance. It was adopted too hastily and without input from a council-appointed master plan advisory committee, which is set to look at the issue in the future, he said.
A Main Street halved by train tracks could be turned into a plus rather than a minus, he said.
“We have a very unique downtown,” Ruge said. “It’s one-sided, and there are very few communities like that.”
Councilman George Haehn said the plan has the potential to strengthen downtown, but the plan has to be executed.
“I don’t want it to get to a point where the folks that were on the committee don’t actually live long enough to see the completion of the plan,” Haehn said.
Ruge said any capital improvement projects attached to the plan will have price tags attached to them, so it would be difficult to say whether changes will take effect immediately.
“I think we are in a position right now that we wouldn’t be doing this master plan if we didn’t think we could start implementing some of it,” he said.
Sparks said that once the dust settles on the planning process, the hope is that downtown revitalization efforts promote cultural and commercial vitality.
“What we’re trying to do is [make downtown Buda] the most desirable spot,” he said. “I think that’s something we can definitely get to here.”