Stahl Urban, left, of BudaFirst, and Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, right, discuss the US Foodservice issue at a recent meeting of the commissioners court. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
BUDA — A pair of Buda residents is suing the city for refusing to allow residents to vote on a city council decision that greases the skids for US Foodservice to locate east of town.
On June 2, the city council voted to allow light industrial land uses in a 95-acre area of extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) land formerly designated only for commercial, office and retail uses. Funded by a family with land holdings near the site, a group called BudaFirst has formed to fight the location of US Foodservice on the tract in Sunfield Municipal Utility District (MUD).
Though BudaFirst later collected 788 signatures on a referendum petition to put the matter up to a public vote, Buda councilmembers voted, 6-1, on Sept. 15 to prohibit the referendum. City Attorney Susan Rocha advised councilmembers that the June land use change is not an action lawfully subject to a referendum.
The council’s June decision to allow light industrial uses on Turnersville Road site was essentially an update to a land plan created by the second amendment to Agreement Concerning Creation and Operation of Sunfield Municipal Utility District No. 1. The council’s June land plan change constituted the third amendment to the MUD consent agreement.
“The whole purpose for a referendum is to reserve certain powers of self-governance in the people,” said Irion and Slade Partner Terry Irion, who is representing the pro-referendum Buda residents. “We’ve got a city council. We elect them, they legislate, they make all these legislative decisions — they approve zoning, they exercise the police powers and manage the city, they enter into contracts, they authorize MUD consent agreements, they authorize the land plans for these MUDs — but every now and then, if we don’t like what they’re doing, we’re going to reserve in ourselves, the people, the right to challenge that decision.”
Former Buda Mayor Jim Hollis and Buda realtor Christopher Juusola filed the suit in the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. The suit does not name BudaFirst.org as a plaintiff.
As of the latest financial filing by the BudaFirst political action committee (PAC), the descendents of the late rancher Herman Heep provided all of the organization’s funding. Heep Ranch Properties, Ltd, married couple Carl and Betsy Urban of Buda, and their son, Stahl Urban, an Austin resident were listed as the contributors. Heep Ranch Properties is owned by Kathleen Adkins. Adkins and Betsy Urban are granddaughters of the late rancher Herman Heep, who established a large spread straddling the line between Hays and Travis Counties lying mostly on the east side of Interstate-35.
“(The Heep) family was the owner of that property that was sold to the Winfield developer,” said former Buda Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) member Rahm McDaniel. “In fairness to them, I think they sold it anticipating that there was going to be a lot of retail synergy coming in as a result of the Winfield development. But when Southpark Meadows came in and the hospital went in Kyle, that sort of sucked the oxygen out of the atmosphere for retail development. So, that’s how we got where we are right now.”
McDaniel was chairman of the Buda P&Z when it issued a unanimous recommendation in February to allow light industrial uses in the disputed 95 acres.
The land use change allowing light industrial use within the 95 acres is necessary for US Foodservice’s construction of a proposed $50 million, 500,000-square-foot regional headquarters and distribution center on about 40 acres near the intersection of Turnersville Road and CR 118.
Opponents of permitting light industrial for the site in general and of locating US Foodservice there in particular warn of lower sales tax revenue and more traffic congestion, air pollution and water waste than the retail and commercial land uses originally intended for the area.
City staff and US Foodservice officials said additional heavy truck traffic would be negligible. McDaniel said commercial uses for the area would entail a great deal more traffic than industrial uses. Proponents of the US Foodservice facility claim city residents would benefit from the 157 jobs the company said would be created at the facility within 10 years. US Foodservice said it pays its warehouse personnel and truck drivers anywhere from $45,000 to $55,000.
Buda’s annual sales tax income increased from $774,000 to $1.4 million immediately after Cabela’s opened in 2005. After Wal-Mart opened near Cabela’s a year later, the city’s sales tax revenue increased to $2.3 million. Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams said in August that the US Foodservice facility would bring $100,000 in sales taxes annually to the city.
Buda City Councilmember Ron Fletcher, who, along with Councilmember Sandra Tenorio, voted in June against allowing light industrial uses in the 95 acres, recently estimated that the land could have accommodated “two or more” big box stores. Tenorio cast the lone vote on Sept. 15 against disallowing the referendum.
“The company is aware of the (referendum) petition, but we have no comment about this pending legal matter involving BudaFirst and the city of Buda,” said US Foodservice representative Howard Falkenberg.
Before the pro-referendum Buda residents filed their lawsuit, they sent the city council a letter demanding that it reverse its June decision or allow a referendum.
In March, two months before the last city council election, Buda councilmembers voted unanimously to deny Sunfield MUD’s earlier request for industrial uses to be allowed in the entire non-residential area north of Loop 4 and Main Street. Before the residents sued, Falkenberg said of their demand letter: “I do not expect it to have any impact on our plans.”
Falkenberg said Tuesday that US Foodservice had not yet purchased 40 acres of the tract from 2428 Partners, LP. The City of Buda, Sunfield MUD No. 1 and 2428 Partners are the parties to the MUD consent agreement.
“The Sunfield site will not be closed until all due diligence items have been cleared,” Falkenberg said. “That has not yet occurred, and I am not certain when it might happen.”
Irion said he filed a motion to prevent the granting of any permits that would facilitate the building of the US Foodservice facility. Irion filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Third Court of Appeals in Austin on Oct. 9. The court hasn’t yet taken action.
The company months ago asked the Hays County Commissioners Court to fund construction improvements to Turnersville Road and CR 118. In August, the Hays County Commissioners Court directed county staff to create a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) agreement whereby the county could fund $1.8 million (including debt issuance cost) in road improvements using ad valorem taxes collected within a specified boundary encompassing at least the proposed US Foodservice facility. US Foodservice offered to pay the difference if the property taxes generated within the zone over a certain period of time are not sufficient to pay for the debt on the roads.
Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) voted against improving the roads. The commissioners court has not yet executed a TIF agreement with US Foodservice.
US Foodservice officials have said their proposed facility would generate $2.7 million annually in property taxes. The city will not collect property taxes within Sunfield No. 1 until the MUD pays off its bonds, which probably will not be until 2037.
“There are competing visions between developers and within the Buda community about how development agreements ought to be structured, as well as exactly what type of growth should be directed where,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle). Barton represents the region including the area in and around Buda.
Continued Barton, “None of us can completely control how growth unfolds, but I congratulate the citizens of Buda for trying to at least manage and shape growth as best they can to fit the community’s goals. I don’t believe the county should try to dictate the outcome. What’s right for one town may be different for another. The decision belongs at the most local level. I will work to support and coordinate at the county level whatever decisions are reached by the citizens of Buda. Typically, that means listening to the city through its elected council, but I will respect any outcome that legally reflects the views of Buda citizens.”
The light industrial designation within the disputed 95 acres allows for uses such as manufacturing, processing, fabrication, assembly, disassembly, packaging, warehousing and distribution of food products, apparel, accessories, home decorating materials, furniture, building materials, computers, electronic devices, medical supplies, books, newspapers and other printed materials, and comparable items, to be conducted entirely within an enclosed building, and for custom carving and packaging of meat, seafood and poultry products, to be conducted completely inside a self-contained building, and for parking, vehicle maintenance and fueling facilities accessory to the preceding uses.Email | Print