Sunday, September 24, 2023

LETTER: Setting the record straight

By now, many of you have read Mayor Bryan Livingston’s Argyle column in the April 2022 issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette. While leaders from other municipalities wrote about spring, Easter and voting/elections, Mr. Livingston chose to attack the previous Mayor, Town Council, and other public servants dating back to 2017. In his walk down (selective) memory lane, Mayor Livingston forgets he was appointed to Town Council on October 22, 2019 and participated in many of the events he now boldly criticizes. The entire column is littered with inaccuracies, and we welcome the opportunity to address a number of these.

Mayor Livingston stated commercial development along I-35W corridor is “a top priority for the Town of Argyle and is crucial for the future financial stability of the town and the Argyle Independent School District (AISD).” That point is without dispute. However, 4 out of 5 Town Council members also agree it must be approached in a careful and diligent manner using proven processes and development agreements to guarantee the best possible results. The mayor’s commitment and concern regarding AISD are questionable after reading his February, May, July, and October 2021 “Around Argyle” columns in The Cross Timbers Gazette where he openly criticized and questioned the financial health of the school district.

Mayor Livingston went on to say “unfortunately, some have chosen to distract the town from this important goal.” The mayor may consider careful thought and deliberation as distractions, but Town Council and the Mayor serve Argyle citizens first. It is our duty to evaluate each project on its own merits, hear staff recommendations, get input from citizens, ask questions, review, research, and share the information, consult with legal resources, and ultimately decide what we each believe is best for all of our constituents. Rubber stamps have no place here.

In truth, the entire Argyle Town Council agrees more often than not. And when there is “dissension,” it usually comes from the Mayor with support from the same single council member. Open debate is necessary to open government and should always be encouraged. The mayor’s role is to facilitate active discussion and deliberation in an open setting, not to advance his own personal agenda and certainly not behind closed doors. Citizens deserve better.

Mayor Livingston claimed the 2017 Town Council, including Mayor Moser, updated the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Plan in 2018, and in spite of the one-acre lot minimum promise, added a six-dwellings-per-acre land use zone in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) west of I-35W and left the same zoning along US-377 south of Old Town.

The fact is, there is NO ZONING in the ETJ, and most definitely not six dwellings per acre. It falls outside the Town’s limits and the Town has very limited authority over the ETJ. Regarding the area along US-377 south of Old Town, it is currently zoned Office Retail, not residential. If rezoned according to the Future Land Use Plan, it would follow Form-Based Code with 60% commercial/retail, and allow a range of restaurant, retail, office, entertainment, and service uses in a walkable neighborhood context. Think Southlake Town Square and townhomes, NOT apartments or multifamily housing.

Unfortunately, after all this time and repeated coaching, the mayor still doesn’t understand zoning. The fact is, the Future Land Use Plan is NOT a zoning map, and it clearly states so right on the document: “The Future Land Use Plan serves as a guide for future development and represents policy and generalized land uses proposed for the Town of Argyle. THIS IS NOT A ZONING MAP.”

It is interesting how the mayor’s point of view has changed since his “Around Argyle” article in January 2022 in which he praised the current Comprehensive Plan and stated, “Under Mayor Moser’s leadership, Argyle formalized both the 2018 Comprehensive Plan’s one-acre minimum residential density target and the policy of concentrating commercial development on the interstate highway corridor where the resulting traffic volumes are manageable…” Suddenly during election time, the Comprehensive Plan is deeply flawed, a point being emphasized by two of the candidates for Town Council.

This letter would not be complete without addressing the “Sewer to Nowhere.” The Mayor and Town Administrator have pushed this proposal in front of Town Council no less than 6 times which calls for constructing a $4 million dollar+ sewer line from US-377 along Crawford Road and under I-35W to an empty field zoned Agricultural and referred to as the “Heritage Tract.” The Mayor and Town Administrator repeatedly lobbied to fund a portion of this project with over $1 million dollars in Federal relief funds intended to help the Town and its citizens recover from the impact of COVID – which the Mayor and Town Administrator have been officially notified is an illegal use of these funds. This award of over $1 million dollars could be used for small business loans, grants, and a variety of other purposes that directly benefit Argyle citizens rather than an ineligible uses such as a sewer line to an empty field or as the mayor calls it, a “future development.”

Argyle Town Council is not against the sewer or commercial development along I-35W, quite the contrary. The issue is the complete disregard of process. To be developed, the “Heritage Tract” (currently zoned agricultural with a portion in the ETJ) requires a zoning change. Under the Town’s Future Land Use Plan, that would be as a Planned Development, which requires the Town and the Developer to work out a mutually agreeable design and commit to it through a Master Development Plan and development agreement. These contracts define and clearly state what will be built, who pays for what, and other important aspects. In simple terms, following the proper required process will ensure the Town and our citizens get what is promised. To do otherwise is reckless and irresponsible.

The mayor seems to expect Town Council to fall in line and approve a sewer line without so much as an updated concept plan drawn on the back of a napkin or any real in-depth discussions. Why should the Town spend millions of taxpayer dollars when the landowner/developer won’t spend a tiny fraction of that to provide an updated concept plan or drawings, and one that the citizens would be willing to accept? According to the Town Administrator’s “Weekly FYI” memo dated April 16, 2021, the developer “would like to have approximately 100 acres of property dedicated to commercial development while the remaining tract would be residential.” Do the math. On a 330-acre tract of land, over two-thirds of the development would be residential, and as currently proposed – apartments. That certainly does not fit the use intended by the Future Land Use Plan for commercial development along the I-35W corridor. A Master Development Plan and development agreement would protect our Town and its citizens by providing for appropriate commercial development of that tract of land, most certainly not apartments and more houses.

In the history of Argyle, the Town has never run a sewer line to an empty ag-zoned field. In fact, the Town doesn’t run sewer lines – that’s what developers do, generally with some financial participation of the Town. Building the proposed Crawford Road Sewer line at the Town’s cost and hoping for the best is not a sound strategy. Do not be confused by the mayor’s misleading statements, half-truths, and double talk. The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is a working blueprint for building and sustaining a community’s publicly-funded physical infrastructure (roadways and sewers). Argyle’s CIP is a 10-year plan and contrary to what has been suggested, it is not written in stone and can be changed. The State actually requires us to revisit it at least every 5 years and update it as appropriate. Argyle may have an obligation to provide services such as water and sewer, but that does not mean the Town must bear the brunt of the costs. This is yet another reason why up-front development agreements spelling out responsibilities, obligations, and costs (among other things) are so critical.

It is worth noting that the Mayor’s words and key points are often contradictory to what he said in past columns. The Mayor’s words don’t reflect the actions or the voting records of the P&Z and Town Council. His words also echo the campaign points of the two candidates Mr. Livingston has chosen to support in the contest for Town Council Place 1 and Place 5. Whatever the Mayor’s agenda, he’s not sharing it with Town Council or citizens.

The misguided and ill-informed statements and conflicting opinions expressed in the April column of The Cross Timbers Gazette by Mayor Livingston took many of us by surprise. They do not represent the opinions of Town Council or the Planning & Zoning Commission, and as in his previous columns, his opinions are his alone.

Rick Bradford, LSSBB, Town Council, Place 5
Argyle, TX

With support from:
Cynthia Hermann, MD, MBA, Town Council, Place 4
Ronald Schmidt, MBA, MSA CMA, CFM, Mayor Pro Tem/Town Council, Place 2
Joann Delashaw, Town Council, Place 1
Casey Stewart, Chairman; Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 5
Paul Kula, Vice Chairman; Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 1
Leona McDade; Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 2
Gordon Baethge, Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 6
Marilyn Lewis, Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 4
Jeff Castellanos, Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 7
Matt Nelson, Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Place 3
Don Moser, Former Mayor of Argyle

CTG Staff
CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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