Consultant critiques Cedar Park map

UPDATED 3:21 p.m. CST Nov. 24, 2014

Cedar Park's draft land-use map has too much land zoned for office buildings and retail, Capitol Market Research President Charles Heimsath told Cedar Park City Council on Oct. 9.

The map is part of an update to the city's comprehensive plan, a document outlining Cedar Park's long-term growth plans and also providing guidelines for the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council.

Previous comprehensive plans were completed in 1998 and 2006. City leaders unveiled the updated comprehensive plan draft in July, and on Nov. 6 City Council held a first public hearing on the plan.

Heimsath said he was not involved in previous discussions about the city's comprehensive plan or its land-use map but was contacted by Cedar Park citizens, developers and landowners.

"They were concerned that the city's future land-use plan was overly weighted toward office and retail land uses in particular, at the exclusion of residential use," Heimsath said.

Place 6 Councilman Don Tracy invited Heimsath to share his findings with the council Oct. 9.

Heimsath told City Council the land-use map shows about 1,246 vacant acres zoned for larger office buildings. But Heimsath's review of Greater Austin market data shows the demand for office space would only fill about 108 acres, or 8.7 percent, of that land within 10 years.

Cedar Park's land-use map also designates about 1,314 acres for retail and small offices, yielding about 14.3 million square feet of building space. But Heimsath said his research of local retail trends—even allowing for twice the expected retail growth rate—shows retail demand could use about 167 acres, or 12.7 percent, of the city's retail-zoned land in 10 years.

Place 1 Councilman Stephen Thomas said Heimsath had researched broader trends in Central Texas, but growth in Cedar Park has proven exceptional.

Cedar Park leaders are seeking businesses that have about 250 employees and would occupy 100-acre tracts of land, rather than lower-density retail or offices that Heimsath assumes the city would want, Thomas said.

Heimsath said his research accounts for what developers want—expensive office or retail office buildings in key locations such as downtown Austin or The Domain, or buildings with inexpensive rental rates. Cedar Park would have difficulty attracting either type of user, he said.

Mayor Matt Powell said he plans to spend more time reviewing Heimsath's research. Powell said often Cedar Park leaders have kept commercial zoning uses for properties that critics insisted could only be used for housing. Developers later built retail centers, and the city was vindicated, Powell said. Cedar Park is also experiencing a recent boom of demand for offices, he said—such as Firefly Space Systems' new 50,000-square-foot building near Arrow Point Drive.

"It either means we're way against trend right now and just going crazy gangbusters, or there may be something off with [the consultant's] numbers," Powell said.

City staffers expect the comprehensive plan to go before City Council for final approval by the end of the year.

Editor's note: This story was updated from its original version to correct bracketed text attributed to Mayor Matt Powell.