The Anti-Development Developer?

Clark Lyda
Clark Lyda (Photo By Jana Birchum)

Of all the new Georgetown City Council members, Mayor Pro Tem Clark Lyda is most enigmatic. The 40-year-old Lyda is a developer by trade whose family has extensive land holdings in Central Texas. He owned South Austin's famed Terrace property for a while, before selling the former Austin Opry House site to the University YWCA. He also owned the 2,000-acre site that is now the home to Del Webb's Sun City Georgetown, a planned retirement community.

In short, Lyda is a major Georgetown landowner and developer serving on -- and concurring with the philosophy of -- a council that is quickly earning a reputation for its "no growth" policies. During his 1999 race against former Council Member Shelley Davis, Davis told the Statesman that Lyda's election to the council would amount to a "conflict of interest," because as a developer his projects would need city approval. Lyda maintains that there have been no conflicts of interest for him since he was elected to the council, and that his only desire is to encourage "managed" growth. "I was scared about the direction that Georgetown was developing," Lyda says. "I believe that you can have a growing community that is both aesthetically and economically sustainable." Lyda says he opposes any kind of incentives to attract commercial and industrial development and is focused on preserving Georgetown's quality of life.

Yet before becoming a council member, Lyda had conflicts with the past council concerning development deals that did not, in the end, receive city approval -- projects that could be seen as embodying the same type of development he now opposes as a city official.

In 1996 Lyda proposed investing $480,000 to build an 18,000-square-foot hangar on the south end of the Georgetown Municipal Airport. City Manager Bob Hart did not endorse the plan because the airport's fuel tanks were located there and the city had hoped to recruit a private company to operate fuel sales. Lyda's proposal is "inconsistent with the city's long-term plans for the airport," Hart told the Statesman. In response, Lyda said he would manage the fuel sales. "Most places would view this as a significant economic development plus," he said. Yet the deal fell through, said former City Council members, when Lyda refused to sign a standard clause accepting responsibility for the fuel tanks in case of fire or explosion.

In 1997, Lyda sought rezoning of a tract of land just south of downtown Georgetown, where he proposed to build 16 1940s-style bungalow homes with garage apartments. Residents of the well-established neighborhood, in former Council Member Ferd Tonn's district, complained vociferously to the council that the development would be too dense for the neighborhood and would create a traffic problem. The council rejected the rezoning by a vote of 6-1.

City sources said Lyda was furious about the rejection -- he told the Chronicle he never has been a fan of neighborhood associations having much say in development matters -- and retooled his proposal to create a "cookie-cutter" development he began calling "Tonneville," a jab at the district's council member. "I'm going to be doing a cookie-cutter, the easiest type of development you can do, with two-car garages in the front," Lyda reportedly told the council. "It's a bad precedent you're setting."

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