City leaders consider jobs top priority for comprehensive plan

Development has taken a backseat to redevelopment in Cedar Park, and city officials want a new comprehensive plan to reflect that change in mindset.

The city is enlisting the help of a consultant to help build the city's 20-year blueprint, which will serve as a guide for the city's economic development, transportation and land-use initiatives. Applications are due to City Planner Rawls Howard by May 31. It will then take up to 30 days for a selection committee to pick a consultant, and a new comprehensive plan should be developed 12 to 18 months after that point.

This is the first time since 2006 the city has considered revising the comprehensive plan, originally developed in 1998. In both cases, Cedar Park faced drastically different development realities, Howard said.

"Both of those plans offer snapshots into those two decades," he said. "There were different questions being asked then. It's the same thing in 2012."

A lot has changed since the original 1998 comprehensive plan, which stated that 69.64 percent of Cedar Park was yet to be developed.

By 2006, that number had shrunk to 15 percent, according to the updated report. The number of private untapped properties continues to shrink, but updated figures are not yet available.

Because of the increasingly limited amount of land remaining, the city's planning strategy will be significantly different than six years ago, said David Manuel, planning manager for Lockwood, Andrews & Newman Inc., which was responsible for the 2006 updated plan.

"When a city is looking at redevelopment, they will call out areas of town they want to see redeveloped, while other areas are delineated as wanting to stay the same, or redirect redevelopment elsewhere," he said.

Job growth

Such rapid growth allowed Cedar Park to cross off many of its desired goals from previous plans, yet one key component continues to be a point of emphasis: primary employers. The 2006 comprehensive plan states that at least 80 percent of Cedar Park residents commuted outside city limits for work.

City leaders suspect that number has dropped only slightly since then.

The city has been fortunate to recently attract some interesting companies to Cedar Park, Councilman Stephen Thomas said, including 3PS Inc., EEstor, Complete Book and Media Supply Inc., Corvalent, Integrated Bank Technology, Dental Health Management Solutions, Fallbrook Technologies Inc. and Service Tech Inc. He said he does not expect the new plan to be geared toward attracting larger employers. Instead, he expects resident input to help dictate what businesses the city attracts.

"I know people want to have jobs locally, so it's a matter of trying to define what employment centers they want here," he said.

As far back as 1998 and again in 2006, residents who participated in the comprehensive planning process stressed the need for more employment opportunities in Cedar Park. More emphasis must be placed on maximizing the value of remaining vacant land in Cedar Park, said Councilman Mitch Fuller, who still thinks the city has enough large tracts of land to attract large employers.

"I don't think you take that off the table If we can't do it, we can't do it, but we have to try," Fuller said. "It's the last big thing we still have an opportunity to do."

Manuel said space restrictions would not necessarily limit Cedar Park from attracting the type of technology-based employers the city seeks.

"Depending on the type of development, a project may have just as much density—it's just laid out differently," he said. "It more depends on what kind of employer it is and what sort of space is required."

But if there is little potential for large companies to come to the city, Councilman Don Tracy suggests instead attracting several smaller startup groups.

"I think the more we're able to diversify the employment base, the more we'll be able to create a diversified tax base," Tracy said.

The comprehensive plan should also take into account existing businesses, said Harold Dean, the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce president for 13 years. "[Cedar Park] can go after entities that help existing companies by coming to make their products here," Dean said. "They can do some recruiting on their behalf for things they buy instead of having to ship parts in."

Commercial development

After years of residential-based development, Cedar Park has shifted toward more commercial projects. Cedar Park councilmen agree that change has helped the city rely on more than just property taxes to sustain long-term growth.

"By having that kind of tax diversification, if our property taxes went belly-up tomorrow, we'd still have a strong sales tax base," Cedar Park Mayor-elect Matt Powell said.

Throughout the comprehensive plan process, Powell said he intends on pushing for "destination retail" such as 1890 Ranch. Powell said Cedar Park would be an ideal location for specialty grocer Trader Joe's, which in April announced plans to develop in downtown Austin.

While plans for a high-end, mixed-use Town Center may not come to fruition, Powell said he does expect future Cedar Park development to make the city stand out more to potential employers.

Fuller agrees the vision for Town Center has changed from a downtown-style venue to a more traditional, low-density development—an acceptable change, he said.

"We've got to adapt to that change and embrace a new strategic plan," Fuller said.

The plan for the plan

Once the city receives all consultation proposals, a committee will determine what firm to select. Fuller said he would prefer the consultant be based locally.

"I want whoever we hire to already know who we are, so I would like to find somebody who, frankly, is at least from Central Texas," he said.

Once selected, Howard said the consultant will be responsible for establishing a comprehensive plan steering committee. There will also be periodic public hearings held for Cedar Park residents.

"Everyone tells us they want to still maintain that small-town atmosphere as we grow, and we've been fortunate to do that so far," Thomas said.