Planning and Zoning Commissioners this week recommended that Town Council approve a text amendment to the Master Plan related to senior housing at its March 6 council meeting.
“This is the next iteration of the 2006 Master Plan that already mentions senior housing,” said Development Services Executive Director Doug Powell during the Feb. 27 meeting.
The purpose of adding defining wording related to senior housing is to streamline the application process for potential developers of this specific type of residential housing.
The reality of the need to clarify the senior housing process came into sharp relief when two developers approached the town about the possibility of presenting an application to build Texas Home Tax Credit (HTC) affordable senior rental property.
The public and council instead focused on the negative aspects of those two specific developments; rather than allowing the possibility of any HTC developments to submit an application. As a result, the town eliminated itself from hearing any future HTC-subsidized housing developments in 2017.
As a hindsight fix, Town Council requested P&Z Commissioners to examine the Master Plan. The result was a proposal to eliminate the current first step—applying for a Master Plan amendment—and create a Policy Statement in its place.
The commissioners recommended that senior housing developers meet a specific Town Policy statement of requirements prior to submitting an application, rather than requesting a Master Plan amendment after filing an application. The zoning, plat and site plan approval steps remain intact as currently written.
In other words, it’s a “preventive” step that eliminates a development that doesn’t meet set criteria for the specific land use up front, instead of the current need to request Master Plan waivers or exceptions afterwards.
“A [replacement] policy statement saying that the Town is in favor of these certain [senior housing] developments, if they meet these specific requirements,” said Commissioner David Johnson. “Having a policy statement as part of the Master Plan is to provide a level of comfort for developers and won’t hold a super-majority [council] vote requirement over their heads to go forward.”
It was also pointed out that having developers meet policy requirements will level the playing field in competition with other communities when developers are looking to propose senior housing projects. In addition, using “should” instead of “shall” will leave a lot of room for discretion.
As a replacement for the current first-step in the Master Plan for senior housing, the wording for the Policy statement is: to encourage high-quality, age-restricted [55-years of age and older], independent housing projects with high-quality amenities, services and programs; building accessibility standards; easy-access to arterial streets and signals; and appropriate transitioning with existing neighbors.
In addition, age-restricted housing types will include for-rent, multi-family, independent senior living: multi-family; single-family attached, town home duplex, bungalow; single-family detached; or others.
The issue of senior housing location was what hijacked the approval for HTC applications and it was the major topic of discussion in setting policy criteria.
It centered on: maintaining a proposed Overlay boundary; extending that geographic boundary; change the boundary from geographic to a bullseye target-type radius with the Senior Center and hospital as its center; setting distance limits from major intersections; or, giving preference to “infill” locations.
Johnson said he believes that to use either an Overlay or a bullseye target approach to senior housing developments favors the existing land-use property owners over other owners, which is unfair.
P&Z Chair Claudio Forest agreed with Johnson, saying: “Within an Overlay or a boundary format, property owners now know that their property has increased in value, because a development is coming.”
“It’s a policy decision that says having a certain use is more desirable closer to medical services,” said Commissioner Al Linley. “The need for medical services is not as great with an active adult community; is not as great as with an assisted-living facility. I don’t favor any land-use boundaries. For infill sites use buffers for incentives, but to accelerate the process by allowing developers to abandon geographic specifications and, instead, examine site-types items will expand the development of that kind of use.”
Commissioner Heth Kendrick said that using a bullseye target and a two-mile buffer could be used to set certain incentives– such as a percentage or hierarchy— to encourage developers to locate a project where the town has a preference.
By taking the approach for open land-use options town-wide, with the exception of certain districts—such as the Cross Timbers District or low-density residential zoned areas, means the market will determine the location, if—like any project– it first passes town staff.
Ultimately, the other commissioners agreed with Linley to set the location criteria for the policy statement as: non-restricted and including the Long Prairie [FM 2499 corridor] District and districts to the south, including the Lakeside District.
Finally, the types of incentives to be included for senior housing are: park fee waivers, but a project should still include open-spaces, such as courtyards; waive new water and wastewater studies—if already completed; waive a TIA (Traffic Impact Assessment) study if current, or reimburse the developer if needed; and, waive environmental quality criteria.
“A developer still has to come forward before the council and prove that the project makes sense for a particular location,” said Powell. “By eliminating the Master Plan amendment [step], there is [still] zoning and a PD that means everyone is still ‘going to kick the tires.’”