San Benito plans for growth

SAN BENITO — It’s projected that San Benito’s population could jump to almost 28,000 by the year 2035.

Currently, the population is about 24,000.

According to the newly drafted comprehensive plan, that could change, along with several other key factors.

Tuesday night, the comprehensive plan was presented by Aaron Tuley, vice president of Kendig Keast Collaborative, the firm tasked with writing the plan.

He said the purpose of the comprehensive plan is to provide the city with a road map on how to anticipate and plan for growth over the next 20 years with respect to land use, parks and recreation, infrastructure and other factors.

“When we began the project we were hired to develop a comprehensive plan for the city and two supplemental plans, the downtown revitalization plan and the parks and recreation master plan,” Tuley said.

The firm structured each plan to have a strong economic focus.

Each of the plan segments is structured the same, with guiding principles, goals, focus areas, strategies, initiatives and actions.

“We had a very large degree of public involvement, however, we’d always like to have more,” Tuley said. “We worked with several advisory committees and city leaders.”

The comprehensive plan is broken up into several chapters, demographics, land use, a parks and recreation plan, economic development, transportation, infrastructure and implementation.

According to the plan, Tuley said San Benito’s population is expected to rise between now and 2035.

The firm started using the 2010 census population figure of 24,250 as a base.

“We looked at a whole range of different databases to make a very conservative projection based on a .25 percent to 1 percent annual growth rate,” Tuley said. “We’re looking at a likely 2035 population projection of almost 28,000.”

However, Tuley said the numbers could change and that change would depend on many factors.

“It’s all like crystal ball gazing,” Tuley said. Anything could happen during those years to cause the city’s population to flat-line or even shrink.

The downtown revitalization plan is shorter and consists of four key elements.

The plan sets forth a vision for specifically the downtown area, which stimulates and coordinates public and private initiatives and investment.

“It provides the city with an implantable plan of action to spur a new wave of growth,” Tuley said.

The key concerns within the plan include issues related to traffic, code enforcement, weak incentives for future growth, creeping blight, lack of activity or events in the area and space unavailability due to spaces that need to be renovated.

Out of these concerns, they devised a plan focusing on improving these areas.

“You have a very rich character of your downtown, it’s a very large downtown,” Tuley said. “It sets you apart from other places like Harlingen; Harlingen’s downtown is not as cohesive.”

Tuley said they identified areas of physical improvement recommendations that the city could consider within downtown. For example, the market district and linear park or improvement to Sam Houston Boulevard, making complete streets more accessible.

When it comes to historical preservation, Tuley said, there is a large group of boarded up buildings that could be used.

He also noted the many grant programs that could help the city restore those buildings.

The parks and recreations master plan’s objective is to provide the city with guidance and sound direction in its commitment to acquire development and manage parks and recreation facilities as well as programs.

Tuley said the firm analyzed existing parks using national standards to evaluate the current state of the parks.

“We did have to follow Texas Parks and Wildlife guidelines because of grants and funding,” Tuley said.

San Benito currently contains about 66 acres of parks. According to the national standard, Tuley said the population warrants a little more, based on the 2015 population of about 24,000.

“Currently the city is providing about 45 percent of the needed parks and recreation facilities for the community,” Tuley said.

In 19 years that number will drop significantly. By 2035, Tuley projected, with the population expected to be at about 28,000, the city will have provided about 13 percent less.

Before the finalization of the plan, the City Commission will hold a public hearing June 9.

After that, city commissioners are expected to adopt the final plan. In the meantime, city leaders and the firm will make the necessary revision to the comprehensive plan draft.

“We do expect some modest revisions to the plan.”