The Waxahachie City Council had a heated discussion during a workshop Tuesday on whether to update its long-term goals in the city’s comprehensive plan.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Singleton voiced his objection to updating the plan, which was adopted in 2007. The plan has been used to help guide development in the city, related to long-range goals, specific plans for areas including neighborhoods, transportation, land use, downtown strategies, housing and community strategies.
“Right now, we are in the middle of some exciting critical action items. We identified all of these things over 12 years ago, but it has taken that long and that much resources to get to where they are a reality,” Singleton said. “My worry is that we get in the mode of planning and chasing every dream without a very good understanding of what is going on right now. In our period of time as council members, we are maxed. We can’t be reckless at this moment.”
Dan Sefko and Daniel Harrison with Freese and Nichols, Inc., a municipal planning firm, presented information on using an outcome-based approach to indentify areas to update in the plan and sought the council’s approval to establish a vision.
“When we start the comprehensive plan, one of the things that we want to start with is the end in mind,” Harrison said. “What elements that we put in the plan today are going to be important to people 20 years from now. These outcomes help to serve as a ranking tool for all of our recommendations.”
Some of the preliminary outcomes that Harrison identified for the plan included improving the quality of life: Does it improve the infrastructure or city services? Does it address a community need? Is there a longevity benefit?
The plan will also provide guidance to the city as well as private developers. It will help with zoning decisions, capital improvement projects and help city officials to spend tax dollars wisely.
Planning Director Clyde Melick told Singleton the city is just looking to update the existing plan and not create a new one from scratch, because things have changed in the city.
“We need to put in those hours now for the product that is coming in 10 years from now,” Melick said. “By no means do I want to lose sight of where we are at now. We should not rest on our laurels.”
Singleton continued to insist on the council moving forward on achieving the goals previously established in the 2007 comprehensive plan.
“As far as I am concerned, this is a living document and we continue to execute under this document and move forward. This is my ground and base that I am working from,” Singleton said. “I am really not wanting to disturb the apple cart right now with off-the-cuff ideas that don’t have any basis of knowledge of where we are.”
Harrison told Singleton that undoing the progress the city has made or is making is what they are trying to avoid when it comes to updating the comprehensive plan.
Council member Chuck Beatty was the only current member on the council when the plan was adopted in 2007. Beatty disagreed with Singleton’s opinion.
“When we did this seven years ago, this was the plan that got us to where we are right now,” Beatty said. “This is the time to update the plan.”
The 2007 plan aided in updating the city’s future land map, which has been used for development along the Interstate 35E corridor.
Singleton responded to Beatty’s opinion and disagreed.
“I appreciate what you are saying, but damn it, we have got some heavy lifting that we are still doing,” Singleton said. “We haven’t finished lifting that stuff. Then to go off chasing after some other dream that could happen as result of re-engaging the community, is a dangerous precedent to set.”
Singleton told Harrison he was not going to let Freese and Nichols, Inc. representatives speak to another steering committee, which advises the council what direction to take on a project, until a consensus from the council was reached. The committee would have been made up of members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Economic Development Council, city council and members of the public.
City Manager Paul Stevens said he thought there was consensus from the council because of discussion from other meetings. Stevens added the city’s economic strategic plan has given the city a great road map and the comprehensive plan’s sole focus should be to enhance that economic plan. Singleton still disagreed with the idea of updating the plan, stating that asking the public for input was dangerous.
“Anytime you go ask well-intended people for their opinion, they are uniformed, misinformed and they will give your opinion. It is dangerous y’all,” Singleton said.
Council member Mary Lou Shipley said every idea received by the council does not mean it is going to be acted on.
While Shipley was addressing the council, Singleton started to speak as Shipley was talking. Shipley turned to Singleton, banged her hand on the conference table and said to Singleton, “Stop interrupting me.”
“Do you think we’re all so stupid that we can’t vote against something that we know is not the right thing to do? You are just assuming that because someone says they want to do something that everyone is going to fall in line and do it,” Shipley said. “Frankly, I think that is a little bit of an insult to everyone on this council.”
Mayor Kevin Strength ended the meeting saying there will be further discussion by the council on the subject. The council took no action since the comprehensive plan wasn’t listed as an action item.