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2014-05-08

Master plan back story

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The city's long and winding Comprehensive Long Range Land Use Master Plan process began in 2007, under the auspices of then-Mayor Denise Griffin.
At that time, nine requests for proposals had been submitted by consulting firms to design a master plan. The city's budget for the plan was approximately $36,000. Additionally, the Economic Development Corporation promised to add as much as $10,000 to the pot.
Eventually the applications were winnowed down to three prior to the unanimous selection of Austin's Urban Design Associates (UDA) in February 2008. The project was led by Dr. Robin Abrams, ASA, ASLA, professor of architecture at Texas A&M,
Giving input into the process, city and county residents and business owners participated in a series of workshops designed to identify Bandera's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
However, by the summer of 2009 - or perhaps as early as 2008 - relations between UDA and Bandera had soured. City officials were not satisfied with the draft master plan as presented. For months, city council withheld a final payment of over $11,000 billed by the group.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Tony Battle said the draft document was filled with typographical errors and spelling mistakes. "To me this looks like a Texas A&M graduate student class project, and we're paying Urban Design to create this master plan."
Jim Hannah, then P&Z chairman, indicated the majority of the work was to have been done by professional urban planners associated with UDA, rather than graduate students.
Another bone of contention was a suggestion about possible annexation of private property to extend Bandera City Park.
Additionally, an engineering study promised by Abrams proved particularly disappointing. "The engineering study fits on one page and cost $3,700," Hannah said, adding, "The work was not completed in an acceptable manner and P&Z did not sign off on it."
The last straw came when Abrams was a no-show for a scheduled confab with city officials in June 2009. At that time, Hannah admitted that UDA was "phasing out of the project." During a planning and zoning meeting later that month, he also noted, "Robin Abrams will no longer be able to travel from North Carolina to Texas to coordinate workshops in Bandera." Apparently Abrams had accepted a professorial position in the Tarheel State. Currently, she serves as head of the school of architecture at North Carolina College of Design.
By this time, former City Councilman Robert Koimn had been tasked with re-working the last version of the master plan draft presented by UDA. Apparently, he had met with Abrams in New Braunfels in February 2009. She had, Koimn said, "few comments on the revisions" and "gave it her blessing at that time."
However, Abrams had little choice but to "bless" Koimn's revisions since neither she nor others associated with UDA would continue working on Bandera's master plan.
To reiterate, UDA had apparently and unceremoniously dumped an incomplete and fragmented document on city officials as early as September 2008 - after receiving over $25,000 for the draft document.
As reported in the Courier at that time, Hannah said, "It is up to (P&Z) and city staff to come up with another draft of the master plan." This led to a discussion of payment of the last bill presented by UDA. Ultimately, the city declined to make the last payment for the incomplete and incomprehensible master plan.
At the request of Hannah with a consensus of the master plan steering committee, Schumacher began the task of sorting out the hastily and poorly written plan. This decision came after several stakeholders pointed out Koimn's effort was becoming "more Robert's vision of the future and less of that of the city."
Under Koimn's ministrations, the master plan had grown from 75 pages to 150 pages.
Also, as reported at that time, Koimn had ostensibly spent considerable time developing the appendices, which included the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction and annexation plans. Technical information gleaned from the Koimn and UDA versions was to have been included in appendices.
From the onset, Schumacher had made it clear that she would not "work on" Koimn's appendices, instead advocating, "Just put them in and let the citizens look at them."
As mayor, the late Horst Pallaske suggested that council read and discuss the appendices for inclusion at a later date. There were no Courier articles to indicate this had been completed.
Regarding municipality infrastructure, a wastewater treatment plant and drainage issues were seen as the most serious and expensive issues, Schumacher said when she presented the master plan to city council. However, a timeframe for completion of these extensive projects had not been established.