Death, taxes and convenience stores

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(Opinion by Miles Smith, LPR editor)

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and people not wanting commercial developments installed right by their neighborhoods.
A passionate crowd filled the third floor of Lockhart’s public library on Thursday night, determined to convince the Lockhart City Council to strike down a proposed rezoning of two plots of land at Mockingbird and San Antonio streets owned by Austin real estate developer Meredith Knight, who wanted the residential land to become commercial medium density land, allowing her to get a return on her investment.
As usual, the crowd didn’t disappoint. In just four short months, I’ve already seen people flock to city council public hearings and pack the house to the degree that I’ve done a second glance at the agenda to make sure they weren’t handing out $1 million or revealing who wins the Game of Thrones next season (My money’s on the Wight Walkers…they have a dragon that breathes sub-zero flames). This was no exception, as one by one, the residents of Windridge took the mic and thoughtfully pled their cases.
In the end, the city council voted in the developer’s favor in a split decision, saying they understood why the residents might be concerned about their property values, traffic, safety and a general deviation from the environment they’d become used to, but they were going to let the change recommended by the Lockhart Planning and Zoning Commission go through.
I think the city council made the right call this time in making a tricky decision to allow growth to happen. For the better part of two decades, folks owning that land fought for a zoning change, admirably fighting the development of the only intersection that currently leads in and out of their neighborhood.
But the myriad arguments against the development really boiled down to homeowners not wanting to see anything built in their backyard — an understandable sentiment, for sure.
A common thread in such arguments against development: the convenience store, Walmart or strip mall is going to wreak havoc on their property values. While I can’t speak to the concerns about safety and traffic, I can tell you I’ve personally seen evidence that might allay concerns about property values falling.
The city of Plano, a suburb of Dallas, was once cotton fields and cow pastures as recently as the 1960s. You couldn’t have called it a suburb back then … not by a long shot. And as recently as the 1980s and 1990s – two decades for which I was actually alive – you could still see old farmhouses and cows roaming pastures in the middle of the city.
My mom bought a house in 1995 for under $150,000 in a new subdivision surrounded by nothing but barren fields. It didn’t take long for a commercial development and multifamily housing to be constructed behind the old family home. Within a decade, a full apartment complex and, yes, a Walmart – the thing literally no homeowner ever wants on the other side of his fence – appeared as quickly as spring onions do in the front yard in March.
Did it kill her property value? I’d say no. That medium-sized one-story brick veneer and hardiplank house today is worth north of $350K. And Plano, a city that has never shied away from development, is now a bustling community with numerous restaurants, high-ranked schools and a number of jobs that help support a robust economy.
You can’t shy away from growth. Not even a convenience store that seems superfluous.
Because no matter what it is, it’s always going to be in someone’s backyard.

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