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“WE SIT ON A MAJOR CORRIDOR…”
CONSULTANT BELIVES PUBLIC INPUT VITAL IN SETTING DEVELOPMENT
Ten years after signing off on a document that laid out Cotulla’s expectations for growth on the crest of the energy industry boom, city councilors have begun talks on drafting a new strategic plan that takes public input into significant consideration.
Although a presentation by Aries Consulting at a council meeting Thursday evening, June 8, was unsolicited, councilors have agreed to seek out a firm that will help write a plan that lays out how and where Cotulla may expand, largely for economic development.
The presentation by Aries founder and CEO Ernest De La Rosa and fellow consultant John Leal last week puts the company at the top of the list for a contract with Cotulla. De La Rosa told councilors that he has a personal interest in developing a plan for the city, as he was born and raised in Cotulla and believes his attachment to the community gives him an advantage over other potential candidates for the job.
De La Rosa told the council that he believes a strategic plan for city development must take the public need into consideration, not only in housing and general infrastructure, but also in employment opportunities and what he described as quality of life issues.
“We need to develop a plan of deliverables that facilitate growth in the city,” the consultant said, adding that much of a strategic plan can only be realized if a municipal government works closely with county, state and federal officials, including state legislators.
“We are asking you to create a framework to move the city forward,” De La Rosa said. “This will help organize the city, to put you in a better position to attract big retailers.”
De La Rosa said he shares councilors’ wishes that a retail store and a grocery store will consider developing properties in Cotulla. He also acknowledged the city’s recent application for a foreign trade zone at the municipal airport.
“We sit on a major corridor,” the consultant said of Cotulla’s position on IH-35. “There’s no reason why Cotulla can’t become a hub for something.”
Cotulla’s last strategic plan included a number of projects that have since seen the light of day, and some have been accomplished. Additional fuel stations catering to interstate travelers, development of a site south of the city that has now been annexed and is served by municipal utilities, creation of a water service loop and other vital upgrades to the city’s utilities, paving projects, and continued development of the Cotulla – La Salle County Airport are listed in the original document.
The earlier plan also called for construction of a truck bypass loop, which has since been accomplished by the county; and development of real estate newly accessed by that road between the north side of Cotulla and the airport.
Also in the document is a proposal that Cotulla shift its form of government from general law to home rule. Although a charter was drafted by an ad hoc commission earlier this year and presented to voters on May 6, the proposition was defeated at the ballot box.
“A strategic plan is not the end goal,” De La Rosa told the council. “It is the beginning. This sets up the processes to reach the goals that you establish.”
“We need another store,” Councilor Gilbert Ayala said. “A lot of people want to know if we can get another grocery store. Having only one means that people feel they are being gouged. It hurts the elderly, people on a fixed income, and the middle class, with buying groceries.”
“I can’t guarantee that you will get one,” De La Rosa said. “But without a plan, you’re not going forward to attract one.”
Aries’ proposal for the city includes determining where annexation is desirable, where utility services may be expanded, what areas may be dedicated to residential housing development and where commercial enterprises may be established, and public input will take local residents’ needs into account, the CEO said.
“You want to be able to control growth,” De La Rosa added. “You don’t want industrial development next to residential areas. You want to be able to designate where growth happens.”
“How soon can y’all get started?” Councilor Manuel Rodriguez asked. “It’s time for our town to move. We need an HEB, a Walmart, and a hospital. Our people have to drive thirty miles to a hospital. Our town is stuck in this little box, but all things are possible. It’s time to give our people what they need.”
“I think there is a lot more than can be done,” De La Rosa said, “but we can’t flip a switch and make it happen.”
Aries’ proposal for Cotulla’s strategic plan includes hosting focus group meetings with business owners, inviting public input, and identifying objectives.
“Working in the field, as I was for many years, we are in constant contact with the public,” City Administrator David Wright said. “We learn from the people what is most needed in a community. We need businesses, housing, better communications.
“This gives us a road map on how to proceed,” the city administrator said.
City Attorney Steve Pena referred to Cotulla’s existing plan in downplaying the role that a consultant might play in drafting an updated version.
“You already have a ten-year-old plan here,” the attorney said. “It would be a matter of updating this. It’s not something to reinvent the wheel.
“We don’t really have a comprehensive plan,” Pena added. “We are supposed to have one.”
“This is more comprehensive,” De La Rosa said. “After this project is done, we have real direction from the council where you want to go.”
“These reports are only as good as what you use them for,” the city attorney said. “Who does anything with them, is the real question.”
De La Rosa said his company expects to remain engaged with the city, if councilors agree to sign a contract with Aries, to assist in the implementation of the plan, including applications for state and federal funds.
“You’re getting gas stations, which is good,” the consultant said, “but it’s not what the people are asking for. You’re not getting an HEB or a hospital.”
Councilors will return to discussions on contracting a consultant for a strategic plan at a later date.