Cedar Park advisory group prioritizes city improvements

Cedar Park advisory group prioritizes city improvementsThe city of Cedar Park is considering holding a bond election to finance $84 million-$95 million in city projects such as new road construction, a new public library, expanded park amenities and redevelopment of a main thoroughfare.

A 15-member Bond Advisory Task Force was appointed by Cedar Park City Council in March and began meeting in April to discuss what projects to consider for bond funding. The city also requested residents share their views about priority projects through public meetings, social media and surveys.

As of June 12 many task force members have ranked transportation and public library projects as high-priority. Members said they are uncertain of how to rank the importance of—or recommend funding for—another proposed project: redevelopment of a portion of Bell Boulevard.

The task force will continue to discuss high-priority projects and possible amounts for a bond election at a June 22 meeting. City staffers will take the task force’s recommendations and present a report to City Council in July. Council would need to call for a bond election by Aug. 24 to put the proposed bond projects before voters on Election Day, Nov. 3. Or council could call for a bond election later, such as in May 2016.

A bond election would be the city’s first since 2007, when voters approved a total of $62.07 million for transportation, parks and public safety projects.

Mayor Matt Powell said he hopes to use debt sparingly and during periods of rapid growth for the city.

“We haven’t done [a bond election] in a long time; that’s unusual for a city of our growth,” Powell said. “[We] want to go through the process to see what [our] citizens are asking for. We’ve got a number of larger projects that we want to get the citizens’ opinion on prioritizing. Bond rates are pretty good right now. … There are fiscally disciplined ways to use bond money.”

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Bond factors


If voters approve bond referendums the city would start to issue the bonds in 2016. However, some projects might not begin until years later.

City Council members have said they want to use other funding means to support city projects to keep the city’s property tax rate low.

In February, Place 1 Council Member Stephen Thomas said the bonds could help fund city road projects that residents want without requiring a raise in the city’s property tax rate of 48.6 cents per $100 of assessed value.

City Director of Finance Joseph Gonzales said the current interest rate environment and the city’s strong credit rating could continue to allow the city to issue bonds with favorable interest rates.

At the May 20 task force meeting, Dan Wegmiller, the city’s finance adviser with Specialized Public Finance, said the city is close to being rated AAA—the highest possible credit rating.

Public feedback


Task force members discussed possible projects for city bond funding at eight public meetings between April and June, including an open house event held on June 8.

The city also invited residents’ comments on social media and offered two surveys for public feedback, including an online survey—in which 518 people participated before the survey ended June 1—and a survey at a June 8 meeting.

The online survey asked residents about 16 potential projects and asked them how they would rank certain project categories. Assistant City Manager Katherine Caffrey said most survey respondents ranked projects, in order of highest importance: transportation projects, public safety expansions, parks facilities, Bell Boulevard redevelopment, Cedar Park Public Library construction and lastly, no projects.

Survey respondents also answered how they would improve Cedar Park with an imaginary $100 million. Most survey respondents again ranked transportation projects as the most important and said they would approve an average of $36.2 million in bonds, Caffrey said. Cedar Park resident Ellen Klipp filled out the survey May 27 and said she found it informative.

“I liked the feeling that maybe—just maybe—I could influence how all that money gets spent,” Klipp said in an email. “Especially when safety [such as] transportation, fire [and] police and facilitating business, both commercial and personal … are involved.”

At the June 8 open house, resident Charles Gibbons said he wanted to know about possible road projects.

“If they completed the Little Elm extension, that would make some of my travel a lot easier,” Gibbons said.

Discovery Boulevard resident Steve Hughey said he was uncertain about the proposed Bell redevelopment.
“I think it’s going to be hard for the city to say, ‘Vote for Bell redevelopment,’ when they don’t know exactly what they are proposing,” Hughey said.

City leaders want residents’ feedback about proposed projects, Place 2 Council Member Corbin Van Arsdale said.

“People feel more secure that they’ve had a chance to weigh in, that someone’s listening to them,” Van Arsdale said. “At the end of the day, though, they’re the ones who vote on it.”

Public safetyPublic safety


Proposed projects to improve the Cedar Park Fire Department and Cedar Park Police Department include:

  • Build Fire Station No. 5 on Cottonwood Creek Trail across from La Jaita Drive to cover the north central and northeast portions of Cedar Park

  • Purchase two firefighting vehicles for the new Fire Station No. 5

  • Phase 2: Expand the Cedar Park Police Department building on Discovery Boulevard, adding 11,150 square feet

  • Finish Building 6 of Cedar Park City Hall on Cypress Creek Road to house fire administration, fire prevention and fire training staff
    Assistant City Manager Katherine Caffrey said survey respondents highly ranked public safety projects. She said about 90 percent support construction of Fire Station No. 5, and about 76 percent support Police Department expansion.


Parks and recreationParks and recreation


Seven parks projects are being considered for bond funding.

  • Develop the 115-acre Lakeline Park property southwest of the intersection of Bell Boulevard and Little Elm Trail

  • Build and connect various cycling and hiking trails

  • Develop the 106-acre Discovery Well Cave Preserve nature park on Anderson Mill Road

  • Add amenities to Town Center Park next to the Cedar Park Recreation Center

  • Construct an outdoor tennis sports center for league and tournament play

  • Add to existing city parks new features such as dog parks and splash pads

  • Make parking lot improvements at the city-owned Cedar Park Youth League facility


Survey respondents generally supported parks but not any particular projects, Caffrey said.

Bell Boulevard redevelopmentBell Boulevard redevelopment


The city of Cedar Park has asked the Bond Advisory Task Force Committee to consider bond funding to redevelop Bell Boulevard. Caffrey said redevelopment may make the highway between Park Street and Cypress Creek Road into a destination district that can benefit businesses, the city and private investors and also resolve traffic challenges in the area.

Since January the city has been working on a Destination: Bell Boulevard study along with hosting public meetings and surveys to seek residents’ and businesses’ feedback. However, the study is still ongoing, and city staffers will recommend one or two redevelopment proposals later in the summer, Caffrey said.

Task force members, including chairman Cobby Caputo, said they would prefer specific details for potential redevelopment of Bell before ranking the project for bond funding.

“I cannot give a rating to something that does not have a dollar figure in this [project ranking] exercise,” Caputo said.
City Manager Brenda Eivens said a very early cost estimate for an initial phase of a Bell project is about $14 million. An initial phase could include initial redevelopment such as roadway construction.

On June 1 task force members approved two possible lists of proposed bond categories. One category lists Bell at $14 million as a bond category along with other projects. Another ranks Bell as a wholly separate bond category item with an unspecified total. Members said City Council could revise the unspecified total in August after hearing more cost estimates from the Bell study.

Transportation


Members of the task force are choosing among 15 proposed transportation projects in Cedar Park, such as extending New Hope Drive or widening Anderson Mill Road.

Assistant City Manager Katherine Caffrey said most respondents to the city’s online survey, which concluded June 1, favored transportation spending.
Proposed projects include:

  • Extend New Hope Drive east to Ronald Reagan Boulevard

  • Extend New Hope east from Ronald Reagan to CR 175

  • Repave about 11 miles of city roads in various areas

  • Repave and widen parts of Anderson Mill Road

  • Widen East Whitestone Boulevard between Bagdad and Anderson Mill roads

  • Realign and extend Little Elm Trail from Bell Boulevard to Brushy Creek Road

  • Improve turn lanes at intersections on Lakeline Boulevard and Cypress Creek Road

  • Widen Brushy Creek east of Arrowhead Trail

  • Widen New Hope between West Whitestone and Lakeline

  • Widen Parmer Lane between Brushy Creek and East Whitestone

  • Widen Ronald Reagan between East Whitestone and the northern city limit

  • Widen Brushy Creek from Champion Park to the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction

  • Extend Scottsdale Drive from New Hope to the Scottsdale Crossing development


Cedar Park Public LibraryCedar Park Public Library


In February architecture firm Hidell & Associates recommended three ways the city can grow the Cedar Park Public Library to add materials, meeting space and technology:

  • Expand the existing library into a renovated 46,000-square-foot facility with a 180-vehicle parking lot

  • Build a new library of 50,000 square feet next to the Cedar Park Recreation Center

  • Find a corporate partner to build a combined facility at another location and for another purpose, such as a museum, for which the city would pay for a 45,000-square-foot library portion


The task force could also consider bond funding for an initial phase of constructing a new library, or a less-expensive renovation project for the existing library facility.

Other


An amount for bond project cost inflation is included in the bond total, though the amount may not be included in a bond referendum for city voters.

One bond project list proposed by task force members would group all inflation totals together into about $7.5 million.

Another list would divide the inflation totals—an unknown amount, likely starting at about $1.3 million, for Bell Boulevard project inflation and about $6.2 million for all other bond projects.

The task force is also considering $250,796 in bond funding to remodel Building 3 at Cedar Park City Hall on Cypress Creek Road.
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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