About 25 residents on Aug. 2 attended Hill Country Village’s first meeting on a potential City Hall bond election, with most saying in a poll they prefer the city hold a fall vote to replace the municipal complex at its existing site.
The city will hold two more town halls Aug. 13 and Aug. 15 at the existing City Hall, 116 Aspen Lane, to obtain public input on how to address lack of space and security as well as other structural issues at the 42-year-old municipal facility.
City officials have been pondering a Nov. 8, 2022, or May 2023 bond election for local voters to determine whether to fund repairs to the existing City Hall and police station; replace it entirely with a modern, larger structure on the same Aspen Lane property; or build a new complex on part of a 14-acre, city-owned tract at Bitters Road and Tower Drive.
Local leaders said the poll, while not binding, helps them obtain a consensus and feeling among the populace about a potential major project.
“It’s so refreshing to see City Hall filled with people to help us make this decision,” Council Member Greg Blasko said.
Residents were provided with a city document outlining issues and challenges facing city employees at the existing 5,210-square-foot City Hall complex; those problem areas include lack of accessibility for disabled individuals; the building's foundation; plumbing and sewer line issues; safety and security concerns; energy inefficiency; and inadequate space for city staff and visitors.
Asked to provide cost estimates, the San Antonio office of architecture firm LPA said—at a minimum—Hill Country Village’s city government would have to increase physical City Hall space by 48% to 7,715 square feet to adequately accommodate the basic functions conducted at the municipal facility, including council chambers and the courtroom, administrative offices, the police station and public works.
According to LPA’s analysis, it would cost $3.50 million to demolish the existing City Hall facility and replace it with the city’s desired site improvements. This cost includes furniture, and engineering and design fees, LPA officials said.
Mayor Gabriel Durand-Hollis, an architect by trade, said it would be cheaper to simply repair and clean up the existing City Hall; however, replacing the entire structure on Aspen Lane or building anew elsewhere could be more cost-effective in the long run.
But some residents wondered whether it would behoove the city to sell the undeveloped Bitters Road property, which is zoned for residential use. This would generate a new revenue stream from future development there and provide to build a new municipal facility.
Other residents questioned how building a new City Hall will affect local property taxes, especially if the city finds itself having to install infrastructure on an undeveloped tract to support new municipal construction there.
A few more residents said they feel Hill Country Village is losing its rural community atmosphere and that developing a new City Hall complex at Bitters and Tower Drive may spur negative changes, such as more nonresidential traffic in the neighborhood.
Council Member Thomas Doyle, who lives near the city-owned Bitters Road tract, said relocating City Hall could provide Hill Country Village with a new gateway entry at Bitters and Tower Drive.
Doyle also reminded town hall attendees that Hill Country Village residents have previously expressed their preference to not have commercial development on the Bitters Road property, although local officials said it is not impossible to change the property’s zoning in the future, if desired.
However, Doyle added that getting public input was the most important thing and that he would be fine with whatever local voters decide regarding a new city hall.
Lonnie Wulfe, who has served on several city commissions and panels over the years, said certain legal circumstances at the time prompted the city in 1997 to spend $650,000 to buy the Bitters Road acreage.
“We haven’t dealt with zoning fights there since we bought the land,” Wulfe said.
Resident George Dennis, owner of the local business Dennis Jewelry, said he would not be negatively affected by the construction of a new City Hall complex on the Bitters Road tract near his home.
Dennis said he believes having a municipal complex there could give Hill Country Village a new formal gateway.
“It would give me and my wife peace of mind if something commercial possibly developed there,” Dennis said.
Frost Bank Executive Kevin Escobar, serving as the city’s financial advisor, said a $3.5 million, 20-year bond—if approved by voters—would raise Hill Country Village’s tax rate from $0.145 to $0.198 per $100 valuation.
Escobar said this would result in a $500 annual tax bill increase on a Hill Country Village property appraised at $1 million.
Escobar said a voter-approved 25-year, $3.5 million bond would cause a $0.47 tax rate hike, leading to a yearly $470 tax bill increase on a a Hill Country Village home valued at $1 million. City officials said Hill Country Village offers a $5,000 homestead exemption as well as $50,000 property tax exemptions for disabled residents and those age 65 and older.
Council Member Matthew Acock expressed some concern, saying he felt the city has not spent enough time exploring its options, costs or potential property tax implications.
“What I think council hasn’t done is present a case for why now,” Acock said.
Blasko said local leaders and residents alike have known for years of a need to at least update and expand the City Hall/police/public works facility. He also said if Hill Country Village wants to call a Nov. 8 bond election, council has until the state election deadline of Aug. 22 to do so.
“It’s time that we do something,” Blasko said.
Council Member Allison Francis said not addressing insufficient safety and security elements at the municipal building sends the wrong message to residents, city staff and visitors.
“It tells [employees] that we don’t care about their working conditions,” Francis added.
When it came time for a poll, 15 residents raised their hands, stating their preference for a fall bond vote rather than May 2023 election option. Fifteen residents also raised their hands when asked if they would rather see the existing City Hall replaced on Aspen Lane.
The city’s other two town hall meetings are scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 13 and 11 a.m. Aug. 15, both at City Hall. Council members said they expect to call a special meeting before Aug. 22 to decide how to proceed on a potential fall bond vote.