Council says comprehensive, downtown master plans on track

Council says comprehensive, downtown master plans on track Main Photo

21 Apr 2022

City of Seguin, News, Downtown

Seguin, TX, USA / Seguin Today

Darren Dunn

(Seguin) — The Seguin City Council is pleased with the work that’s been done thus far with the development of two major plans that will map out the city’s future. The city is working with a firm to develop both a comprehensive plan and a downtown master plan all at the same time. The concurrent projects take a look at nearly every aspect of life in Seguin and try to come up with vision for the city’s future.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Project Manager Chance Sparks, an urban planner at Freese and Nichols in San Marcos, provided an update on the work that the company has done up to this point. Sparks says they wanted to check-in with the council to make sure that they were on the right track. Sparks began by better defining their work, including the purpose of the larger comprehensive plan.

“We are looking at defining the community’s vision. The most important part of that word is community and then the assumption of the long-term statement that guides the policy, the road map. This serves as your basis for a lot of your ordinances from everything from your unified development code to even things like your right-of-way management ordinances, things that maybe aren’t the most exciting topics on earth but that are just as important and it’s the tool for general decision making. The comprehensive plan is a great tool to use in the budgeting process – things like that as you go forward,” said Sparks.

The comprehensive plan focuses a great deal on land use planning, which is not to be confused with the regulatory zoning process. Sparks says this is a much broader focused look at what the community wants to see as the city develops and grows.

“It’s more than just a map. That’s one thing that’s really important to understand and it helps you to essentially keep your development organized and consistent with where you are trying to go. The economic piece of that is really important because usually what the community vision is and where the market is trying to go does not always perfectly align so the role of that is to figure out how do you take that gap and build a bridge between it so that that market is supporting where you are trying to go with that vision. The goal there is let’s get towards sustainable growth, help you with your annual budgeting, something that is fiscally responsible that is getting you the community that everybody here is saying they want into the future,” said Sparks.

The downtown master plan takes a similar approach to collecting data, but unlike the comprehensive plan — this one is laser focused on just one important part of Seguin.

“It is much more sight specific. It’s looking at physical framework. It’s thinking about policy and things like ownership, who owns what and how and really foremost in this is that economic and market component – understanding the position of downtown not just in Seguin but amongst downtowns regionally and what are your strengths, how do you leverage does, how do you build on areas that might be challenges. This is a very data driven process initially. We go through a lot of – we actually call this the making the pretty maps part but it’s really looking at what are those prime areas that catalytic, that will make a huge difference for Seguin going forward in downtown and the critical issues that you look at along the way. People think a catalytic project – oh, it’s a big development project but it could actually be very small changes that have a significant impact. We often talk about doing the smallest thing and doing it right now. Don’t wait for it. That’s especially important downtown because it sends a very clear message to investors that ‘hey, this place matter. This city cares. I want to be a partner in this conversation,’” said Sparks.

The company conducted dozens of formal and informal conversations with people in Seguin. He says a number of concerns were raised during those conversations.

“What we heard as concerns, is things like traffic comes up, thinking about aesthetics, people want to see more shopping in the city. That’s all things that you have heard probably once or twice I’m assuming as council members – but also really detailed things – thinking about waste management downtown and how to handle that. A lack of nightlife and entertainment, that wasn’t just a downtown thing. That was a city-wide comment that we’ve heard. A lacking of outdoor space – the people who say that are people who like to go places with pets and kids more than anything and then just underutilized buildings. We also heard some comments where people said, ‘You see the new development? Are we losing a little bit of who we are as Seguin?’ And one of things that we heard is trying to be more overtly welcoming to all cultures. They saw that as something where it is an opportunity for improvement and then they did mention – some people are just simply opposed to growth and that’s a little bit of human nature. Humans are kind of naturally – are change resistant so not a big surprise,” said Sparks.

Sparks says these were nuanced conversations that focused on a number of ideas. These weren’t just concerns about the community. He says they also heard about the number of good things that are happening in Seguin as well.

“What we heard is there was a lot of young people living here because it is affordable and it’s close to things. But, we also heard from people that basically said that they could have lived anywhere and they chose Seguin but one comment was ‘we like the vibe and feeling we get and that’s really important.’ They also see how you provide incentives to focused development. That’s an opportunity and really playing up some of your green space and recreational resources. You have really nice park facilities here and just trying to create that better access to those along the way. I heard a lot of great project ideas. The one-way streets in downtown definitely came up. I will admit to going the wrong way down them at least once and also thinking about how to make those pedestrian/bike connections to other surrounding neighborhoods. Particularly what we heard a lot about was how do you bring the west side into this conversation and create some ownership there and maybe create that symbiotic relationship between that neighborhood and downtown. Thinking about connections using Donegan to connect downtown to your park system. That came up several times and TLU has increasingly come up as a significant opportunity,” said Sparks.

Their data collection work, including an interactive online survey, allowed them to pinpoint a top goal for the downtown area. That top goal was for downtown was for it to become a destination for everyone.

“And what we heard is they want to be a destination for locals and visitors. What we often talk about is if the locals love your downtown, your visitors are going to like it too. We tend to look for the same things when visiting. You don’t have to have that great downtown walkable experience going somewhere else. You should be able to have that where you live,” said Sparks.
The company has used this work to develop vision statements for both plans. Sparks says the vision for the comprehensive plan focuses on what people want the community to look like in the future.

“The vision statement that has resulted from this process with the comprehensive plan that went through planning and zoning is Seguin is a growing city with a thriving downtown that maintains its smalltown charm, preserves its diverse history and celebrates new and unique opportunities in neighborhoods to enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors. So, this is you get into the time machine, you go forward 20 years, this is Seguin,’ said Sparks.

Sparks says they also developed the guiding principles that will be necessary for city to move towards its vision.

“How do you get there is looking at quality housing options in your city and encouraging those, diversifying your commercial and retail development, improving connectivity and mobility for all users. We are going to talk about that some more when we get into that process and encourage economic development that builds this local diverse business culture, increasing your parks trails and open space network. That shouldn’t be a surprise, something very similar appears in your parks and recreation plan and then preserving your history and celebrating the character of Seguin. One of the things we want to emphasize is be proud of who you are as a community – partnering with your public and private sector to ensure thoughtful balance, sustainable and equitable growth,” said Sparks.

The downtown vision statement and guiding principles go a little bit deeper, because it’s so specifically tied to one area. Sparks says they were able to come up with an overall vision for the future of downtown Seguin.

“’Downtown Seguin, an exciting and welcoming destination for locals and visitors that celebrates our beauty, grit and drive while remaining true to our local history and variety of cultures that shape our future.’ So, the message that we see coming out of this is kind of be a little bit different than what you maybe see elsewhere. Make this a very very locally driven downtown that conveys everything you love about Seguin,” said Sparks.

Sparks says they tried to develop goals that would help downtown Seguin become a regional destination. He says some of the goals may feel broad, but they help to build upon the downtown plan’s framework.

“Strengthen those relationships between the local community and downtown and that means not just the immediate neighborhoods, but I was thinking further out whether it’s the west side neighborhoods or even further out, thinking out there on 46, getting those people to make the right turn into downtown Seguin versus that left turn to New Braunfels. Telling that story of downtown Seguin and telling that story completely. That means all of the great stuff and maybe even a few of the warts along the way. Attracting and sustaining a variety of businesses — you want that big variety, that big cohesion and make those physical improvements to make a vital place. That’s where we talk about those things like roadway improvements,” said Sparks.
Sparks was asked to specifically address some of what they are hearing about Central Park in downtown Seguin, because it comes up in both the downtown master plan and the larger comprehensive plan. Sparks says people have strong feelings about Central Park, including what it is and what it could be.
“Unless there is an active program happening there – the comment we heard that I think we latched on to the most is it feels like a place that you march through. It feels very very formal, and it doesn’t have a lot to do there and so we see that as a model opportunity. That’s going to be complicated because that plaza has history to it too, so you have to be careful what you mess with in it. What we definitely heard is maybe be a little adventurous in coming up with new ideas to maybe take those pieces of history and
do something special with them. We heard comments, about you have this historic fountain, what if there was a water plaza around it that was interactive, and we are not talking about you know a classic splash pad where there is a frog that shoots water out of its head. We are thinking something more like what you see like in main plaza or in The Pearl as some local examples,” said Sparks.
Sparks says they also looked at issues like parking in the downtown area. He says there’s not a lack of parking, but there may be some other challenges that make people feel like there’s a parking issue.

“Your parking situation isn’t bad in downtown. We have never had experiences of difficulty of finding parking. We have been here all different times of day. We do see the issue of people want to try to park right where they are going but that also has a lot to do with what’s going on around them. If it’s a whole bunch of empty storefronts that aren’t active, they don’t want to have a five-minute walk that isn’t interesting. They want it to be interesting. You have to think how to beautify it. In the evening, you have to think about how you light it or doing what fundamentally feels safe. One of the areas that we zeroed in on is that crossing at Court Street. You might as well have two downtowns, one south of court, one north because that crossing of Court Street is really uncomfortable for a pedestrian, so we heard that a lot. We are also thinking about how you can kind of corner off your parking to be useful and what we think about is how do you use your downtown during events. When you have your big events downtown, guess what gets closed? All of your parking but those are your biggest parking demand periods but everybody accepts that, so we need to rethink about how we place parking and how do you connect it where people feel really good about it,” said Sparks.

The consensus from the council is that the company is on the right track in developing both plans. Given that green light, Sparks described some of the next steps in this process. Those next steps include developing a downtown master plan concept and identify key catalyst projects for the downtown area. They will develop the content that will be included in the comprehensive plan. They have also set up a community open house, where the public will have a chance to view and discuss some of this work. The community open house is set to run from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 26 in the Seguin Coliseum.

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