Residents and stakeholders share their visions for Leander’s future

When Haythem Hammour visited family members in Leander during the mid-2000s, he believed the city could develop into a thriving community for employers and retail.

The city’s potential led to Hammour’s decision in 2010 to move from Sudan to Austin and later to Leander, where he now owns a house in the Crystal Falls neighborhood. But after living in the city for about four years, Hammour said he believes Leander must do more to attract business and development.

“The population of the city is growing every single day,” he said. “But on the other hand [the] city still lacks [public transportation]—within Leander—that makes it hard to live without owning a car. The second issue that really needs to be raised is encouraging more businesses to move [to] and serve Leander.”

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City leaders in Leander are engaging residents like Hammour to be part of a discussion about how Leander’s future should look. Feedback from residents and stakeholders has been shared on the city’s website and at public meetings as part of the conversation that will help shape Leander’s comprehensive plan, the document that presents a picture of future development to guide planning and zoning decisions.

The “Destination Leander” effort is organized by consultant group LandDesign and the city’s 11-member Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, both appointed by Leander City Council in December. The committee plans to present a first draft of the updated plan to the public at an Aug. 11 meeting. Then members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Leander City Council will separately vote on the plan in September or in October if either body requests major changes to the draft.

Planning priorities

The city’s new update process picks up after the last comprehensive plan update in 2009—a process that was unfinished partly because of city staff turnover, City Manager Kent Cagle said.

“There was a whole laundry list of things to get done, and it sort of got dropped,” Cagle said.

The plan includes city demographic data and lists city growth objectives and plans for transportation, city infrastructure such as public utilities, arts, schools, housing, emergency services, and parks and recreation. When the update is complete, the plan will be based on new information and reflect updated community priorities, said Assistant City Manager Tom Yantis.

Envisioning the destination

Steering committee members hosted community meetings April 7 and June 3 to ask how participants would change the comprehensive plan.

Residents and stakeholders share their visions for Leander’s futureThe city also set up a community discussion website that drew 2,421 views and several comments by July 2, Leander Staff Planner Martin Siwek said.

City Senior Planner Robin Griffin said city staffers requested feedback from groups such as businesses, homeowners associations, charter schools and religious leaders. Staffers also contacted groups outside Leander who would have interest in the city’s development, such as in the Williamson County Parks Department, the YMCA, utility providers such as Pedernales Electric Cooperative and Atmos Energy, and the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce.

Steering committee members interviewed residents such as Rev. Ray Altman, a pastor at Leander United Methodist Church. Altman moved to Leander for the position in mid-2014 and said he was grateful for the chance to recommend city improvements.

Leander needs more gathering places between homes and workplaces where people can build relationships and share ideas, Altman said.

“People need to connect for roots to be put down,” Altman said.
Leander UMC is in Old Town Leander, the downtown area that city leaders want to revitalize with new development that includes a blend of uses.

Residents and stakeholders share their visions for Leander’s future“We’re very excited about revitalization and having the draw of community downtown,” Altman said.

Rick Castleberry, broker with real estate firm Paladin Cres, said he is less optimistic about the comprehensive plan discussion. Castleberry said the city has erected barriers to development, leading to his legal disputes with the city over his proposed development at Toll 183A and Crystal Falls Parkway. He said that since the Gateway at Leander shopping center was finished in 2011, northwest of Crystal Falls and US 183, the city has had little commercial growth.
“There’s a reason for that,” Castleberry said. “[City leaders are] so hard to deal with, and their urban plan is so hard and restrictive that retailers look at that and say, ‘We’re not doing that.’”

Castleberry said he disagreed with a comment by former Place 6 Council Member David Siebold in the Jan. 14 steering committee meeting. Siebold said he did not want more strip centers in the city and preferred adding mixed-use developments. But cities need to start with strip centers to encourage other business, Castleberry said.

During the Jan. 14 meeting, steering committee member Joel Wixson said he believes Leander’s growth should be based on its own identity and not try to replicate the appearance or methods of cities such as Austin. Developers could perceive Leander’s identity only as a “bedroom community” and skip Leander to build further north, Wixson said.

On Jan. 14 resident Virginia Naumann said her family came to Leander in 1942 and saw the city grow away from the former city of Bagdad and gain its own identity.

“If we’re going to go with [the name] ‘Destination Leander,’ let’s get some destinations to go to Leander,” Naumann said.
By Stephen Burnett
Stephen Burnett has been a community journalist since 2005. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in November 2013. For the cities of Cedar Park, Leander and northwest Austin, he covers city and county government, business, development, events, transportation, utilities and more.


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