It’s the end of an era.
Last week, both Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell and Leander Mayor Chris Fielder announced they will not be seeking reelection this May.
What a run it has been for both mayors.
In their respective six-year terms, each has overseen dramatic growth in this corner of the Austin metropolitan area. What were sleepy burgs with two-lane roads connected to Austin and the first northern suburb — Round Rock — just a few short decades ago, are now among the fastest growing communities in the state.
Leander’s significant housing boom reached a fever pitch during Fielder’s tenure, seeing the city named the fastest growing in the U.S. from 2014 to 2015. That growth has continued since, and the city has now doubled its 2010 population in less than eight years.
Cedar Park’s Powell first joined that city’s council in 2005, when he noted the population was around 32,000. Today, Cedar Park has grown to more than 75,000. Along with that growth has come the H-E-B Center, two major new retail centers and a housing boom of its own.
Both mayors deserve to be recognized for their legacy of helping to steer fast-growing communities through historic growth and an ever-expanding need for city services. Both Cedar Park and Leander are regularly recognized as some of the safest places to live and raise families in Texas — thanks in part to an attractive school district with programs that achieve on a top state level every year.
In short, both men have set the bar high for future aspirants to their offices.
Which has us thinking about the future. What kinds of challenges will the new mayors of these growing cities face, and what kinds of opportunities will the future hold?
With any period of rapid growth comes with corresponding challenges. Traffic problems and the potential for an increase in crime are among them.
While the groundwork laid by Fielder’s administration and recent city councils have set the stage for continued expansion, much work remains to be done — notably, Leander was also named the most expensive city in the Austin metro for apartment rentals. There’s also a growing desire for retail, restaurants and office space in the area.
Cedar Park has had more than its share of traffic complaints in recent years, and despite the convenience of the 183A toll road, the high cost of using that toll road continues to draw complaints from residents and visitors.
Part of this area’s traffic woes are directly attributable to the lack of a cohesive public transportation system across Central Texas. Leander has a MetroRail station, and there’s one near Lakeline Mall. However, we hope future leaders and the continued growth of the area will encourage further development of public transportation options and advocate for a more cohesive approach to resolving the region’s transportation woes.
Now more than ever, our community is need of strong visionaries to step up and carry the cities in a direction that will harness what previous administrations have achieved and kick it up a notch.
Here’s a few things to consider: should these cities focus on developing more businesses and retail to create destination districts? Or maybe focus more on amenities and city services to provide its citizens with quality trails, parks, events and town centers?
Leander is mostly residential neighborhoods now with many more on the way. Promises of a vibrant transit oriented district surrounding the Cap Metro station are exciting. However, many folks are quick to point out the city lacks retail and food options. Could there be a possibility of a nightlife in Leander?
In Cedar Park, the redevelopment of the Bell Boulevard district will be a heavy undertaking for the city. While the project holds a lot of promise for creating a downtown district, the city’s next mayor will need to be able to champion it and implement it in a way that’s both fiscally-sound and mindful of the needs of residents.
When the May elections come, we hope residents vote mindfully for charismatic and competent leaders who can passionately put a robust vision for the future in action.
As Powell said in his state of the city meeting last week, “these are the golden years” where both Cedar Park and Leander are on the cusp of truly developing unique identities beyond the notion they’re just suburban communities.
The question is, who will be up for the task?