By Andy Sevilla
A previously proposed truck stop project, twice denied by the Kyle council, was rolled into the political pitches of two candidates fighting for the District 3 seat on the city’s legislative body.
Shane Arabie and Laurie Luttrell — the candidates battling it out — fielded questions at a candidate forum hosted by the Kyle Area Senior Zone (KASZ) Tuesday night at Historic City Hall. Hays County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Beth Smith moderated the event.
The truck stop was a top concern for the roughly 30 Kyle residents who attended. Arabie and Luttrel both unequivocally assured the audience they would not support a truck stop should it come before council a third time.
“Do I want a truck stop?” Arabie said Tuesday night. “No, of course I don’t want a truck stop. But I do, I want to continue building the city, growing the city.”
Luttrell echoed Arabie in her opposition to the project near Yarrington Road that previously featured more than 200 big rig parking spaces.
“I am definitely not for a truck stop in that area,” Luttrell said. “Development, sure.”
She said if the developer returns to council proposing a truck stop project a third time, and she is on the council, her vote will be no.
Luttrell poked Arabie on his Planning and Zoning voting record and highlighted that Arabie voted in favor of rezoning the tract of land where the truck stop was proposed to go.
Arabie was not a Planning and Zoning commissioner when the matter came before that board. In an October 2, 2013 council meeting, Arabie told council members the truck stop fits the city's comprehensive plan, and that it's a guideline and not set in stone. Arabie said in that October meeting that the property owner has a right to do as they please on their property, and that properties bring infrastructure to the area, according to the official city minutes.
“Yes, a truck stop can be placed into that zoning category,” Arabie said. “Now, I also can’t stop a truck stop from coming.”
He said as long as developers meet the criteria of a zoning category, they have the opportunity to build in that area.
“The problem is you can’t change a development,” he said. “Once it already fits our ordinances, it fits our ordinances. It needs to move forward.”
Arabie cautioned that council members would need to change the ordinances in place to better restrict unwanted developments.
“Just making the call saying, ‘no, I don’t like that,’ I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said, adding that many former mayors and council members fought hard to grow the city. He said while he does not support the truck stop, development must come to the area.
“I don’t think a truck stop needs to come, no matter how it was zoned and no matter what they come to present to the city council,” Luttrell countered Arabie. “It needs to be changed and that truck stop needs to be stopped from coming here.”
Another hot button issue surrounded Kyle’s property tax rate. The city presently has the highest tax rate – 54.83 cents per $100 valuation – of any other municipality in Hays County.
“For the amount of growth that we’ve seen in the past ten years, I think our tax rate is very representative of the adversity that the city has seen,” Arabie said, adding that in time “our tax rate will come down.”
Luttrell said that, realistically, city services are not in a position to be cut or curtailed and it would take going line by line in the budget to see where cuts could be made.
Both Luttrell and Arabie suggested looking into the city’s reserves, or “rainy day fund,” to look for potential tax relief.
“Past councils have imparted that 25 percent of our budget needs to be set aside into this rainy day fund,” Arabie said. “Thus far, it’s putting us above 12 cents, I believe, over what our tax rate should be at this point.”
Early voting in the runoff election concluded Tuesday. Election Day is Aug. 30.
Editor's note: We have corrected the story to clarify that Arabie was not on the Planning and Zoning commission when the proposed truck stop project came before the panel for rezoning. Arabie did speak in favor of the property owner's right to build the project at an October council meeting.