Town center planned in Robinson tax zone | Local Govt. and Politics

A town center populated by stores, restaurants, a splash zone and an assembly hall dominates a plan for Robinson to meet its development potential, all clustered strategically around City Hall and its police and fire stations.

The third largest city in McLennan County has launched an ambitious plan to leverage tax dollars and private investment in two Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones along U.S. Highway 77 and I-35. Within these areas, the city envisions a 92-home subdivision, commercial ventures, office buildings, retail stores, restaurants and more arriving over three decades.

McLennan County commissioners this week pledged continued support, agreeing that revenue from 70% of new county tax base generated by development in TIRZ No. 2 will remain there to cover public improvements.

The court struck the same deal a couple years ago for TIRZ No. 1.

The centerpiece of TIRZ No. 2 is the proposed town center, which would materialize between U.S. Highway 77, East Lyndale Drive, South Old Robinson Road and East Stegall Drive. A site plan prepared with input from Fort Worth-based David Pettit Economic Development shows four retail or restaurant sites along 77, a pedestrian plaza, a splash zone for youngsters, a repurposed police building, an assembly hall, and a restaurant or retail use at South Old Robinson Road and East Stegall Drive. Build-out would occur in phases.

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Precinct 1 McLennan County Commissioner Jim Smith, whose precinct includes Robinson, said city leaders long envisioned using land near City Hall “to create a downtown Robinson instead of a drive-thru on 77.”

“That’s one of their long-range goals, certainly among their wishes and wants,” said Smith, a longtime superintendent of the Robinson Independent School District who served four terms on Robinson City Council.

Smith said the TIRZ could generate funds to improve infrastructure, or install it, where development is lacking. The zones do not create new taxes, but set aside a portion of property taxes in their boundaries for specific purposes.

“I certainly don’t want to speak for Robinson, but it struggled so many years keeping up with infrastructure needs,” Smith said. “The current council is doing a good job addressing it, but it can’t be done overnight. The city is in really good shape to meet future water demand, for citizens and for commercial purposes. A sewer system is in place. The opportunities for development are there, if we can get enough people interested.”

At one time, Robinson was the fastest-growing community in McLennan County, from a percentage standpoint, Smith said. But he said residential growth without a commercial component lacks sustainability.

“It’s hard to build city services on the backs of homeowners,” he said. “You need business properties to spread the cost of government.”

Robinson City Manager Craig Lemin said creating the TIRZ is progressing nicely, but results are years, if not decades, down the road.

Lemin said TIRZ No. 1 covers more than 4,000 acres and takes in the Robinson Industrial Park, the Robinson Business Park and U.S. Highway 77 from the northernmost city limits to Peplow Drive. Anchoring this zone is a 640-acre tract at the southeast corner of Interstate 35 and Loop 340. The Waco Industrial Foundation makes the land available for development.

A report by David Pettit Economic Development presented to commissioners in February 2020 predicted development in TIRZ No. 1 could generate more than $200 million for infrastructure improvements over a 35-year period. That formula would apply if Robinson and McLennan County each committed 75% of new taxes generated there to public improvements within the zone.

McLennan County agreed to 70%, while Robinson pledged 75%.

TIRZ No. 2 is much smaller than TIRZ No. 1, covering only 474 acres along Highway 77 south of Peplow Drive. Lemin said it would generate about $101 million for upgrades in the zone over 35 years.

Lemin said Robinson controls one block and most of another around City Hall, where the town center could take shape. He said concepts included in town center renderings are “what could be done,” not written in stone.

“We are creating a downtown Robinson, which we do not have,” Lemin said. “It would be mixed-use, maybe multi-story structures with retail downstairs and residential upstairs. There could be community facilities, a place to gather. Our goal is to try to acquire more property in the area. This is a long-term project. We do not yet have a definitive plan.”

By the time funding is available, consumer habits may have changed and a town center would take on fresh applications, Lemin said.

First the reinvestment zones must generate revenue. The taxable value of property in each zone at the time it is created represents a “floor,” and tax revenue based on subsequent increases in value is set aside to fund public improvements in the zone.

“This puts new value on the books, and it’s paid for by those doing the developing, not by all Robinson residents,” Lemin said.

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