“The future should be on the lips and minds of every person trying to make an impact on the city of Kyle … if we consider what Kyle could be like in 20 years and work our way back to the present, there is a way forward.”
Those were the closing comments on Tuesday of Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell, who delivered his 2019 State of the City address to an assemblage of Chamber of Commerce officials, members of the business community and other at Kyle Old Town.
Mitchell spoke for about an hour on the challenges and successes the city has seen in the past year, spending what he admitted was a disproportionate amount of time on the one issue no one had foreseen — Kinder Morgan and its plans to build a 42-inch natural gas pipeline through Hays County and the city of Kyle.
Mitchell also touched on the concept of managing growth and the city’s efforts to shift from the model of single-family detached homes to more of a focus on new urbanism and vertical use projects; various infrastructure projects; and economic development.
Regarding Kinder Morgan, the mayor stressed the multiple ways city officials have struggled against the energy giant and the route of its planned pipeline since first learning about the project about a year ago from reading about it in the newspaper.
He described the city’s efforts as a “crusade to track Kinder Morgan down and get them to the table,” and the various incarnations the struggle has taken since then. He detailed the city’s learning that the company was not subject to environmental regulations yet had the power of eminent domain. “They can take people’s land without a public hearing or environmental impact statement,” he said, adding that the decision on the project’s route were made in a boardroom using outdated maps. “They didn’t take into consideration just how much the Hill Country didn’t like their idea,” he said.
Kyle and 17 other jurisdictions including cities, counties and school districts passed resolutions in opposition to the Permian Highway Pipeline but stressed that the Texas Legislature, for its lack of oversight, shares in the blame. The city’s first lawsuit, which was joined by the city of San Marcos, Hays County and individual landowners, was to force the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) to exercise actual oversight on such projects. That action was struck down by a judge but is now on appeal.
Next came the a city ordinance that, while it did out outlaw pipelines, sought to enact stricter standards on things like depth. “Kinder Morgan didn’t take that kindly and filed a lawsuit,” Mitchell said. “That’s when the opportunity came to sit down with Kinder Morgan and negotiate … we were able to put into place an agreement” that still calls for the pipeline to be deeper in some places but prohibits it ever being converted to carry crude oil, and allows the city to pursuit lawsuits against other entities. It did that last week, along with the city of San Marcos and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.
“We don’t know what the future holds … we don’t know if the pipeline is going in the ground and through the city,” he said, noting that Kinder Morgan recently announced the project has been delayed due to “regulatory challenges.”
On infrastructure, Mitchell went into several road projects that constitute a lion’s share of the city’s new $87 million budget. “There’s nothing that impacts the quality of life quite to the degree of roads – from congestion, to bumpy roads, to dangerous intersections,” but said such improvements are necessary given the city’s rapid growth.
He also stressed that such projects will be less expensive in the future, since the city’s street division finally has all the equipment needed to complete the jobs in house, without hiring outside contractors – a practice which drives up the price.
He also spoke of the city’s growing workforce, now at more than 250 employees, what’s available at the public library and the need of the police department for a new, larger facility.
On the economic development front, Mitchell said 484 new single family home permits have been issued in the past year along with 48 certificates of occupancy. He pointed to SmileDirectClub’s bringing their headquarters here along with 850 jobs paying an average wage of $40,000 per year; as well as the Korean company ENF that is scheduled to start construction next year on a facility to manufacture microprocessors and semiconductors.
He also addressed the Uptown Kyle at Plum Creek multi-use project that would include a new public park, a hotel/convention center, apartments and “a vertical, Class A office building” that would be funded from a variety of sources.
“Uptown is going to be a type of development that does not exist in Kyle, does not exist in Buda and does not exist to this scale in San Marcos.”
Back to his conclusion, Mitchell said it’s been his experience that “the most important thing to a city council is that we do a good job of collaboration with the community, with our regional partners, with our staff and with each other. When you see a council member, encourage them to keep thinking about the future … we know the planning process we have gone through will have a maximum return on our future.”