Leander residents will soon have the opportunity to vote in a pivotal city council election, one that will directly affect their wallets and shape their city.

Currently, Leander is essentially a desert for businesses. Over the years, city council has enacted a complicated web of rules and restrictions that have blocked new businesses from coming to town, leaving the city’s streets desolate of anything but homes. While surrounding cities such as Cedar Park and Round Rock have experienced a flood of new places to work, shop, and eat, Leander has had barely a trickle.

On top of that, not only has city council’s restrictions prevented new businesses, they’ve left homeowners without any help to shoulder an increasingly heavy property tax burden.

Now, six local candidates are running for three seats on the city council, all with their own perspective on how to fix the city’s crippled commercial economy. Five of them have never run for public office before.

Place 1 candidate Kathryn Pantalion-Parker, who has been involved with the Leander Chamber of Commerce, said one of her priorities is “eliminating burdensome regulations that have caused businesses to look elsewhere.” She says removing the blockades for businesses will in turn help alleviate homeowners’ tax bills.

“The sooner we attract more and larger commercial businesses, the more likely we can lower personal property taxes,” she said.

Parker’s opponent, Laura Lantrip, said she doesn’t see as much of a problem with the city’s complicated rules. Lantrip has spent her entire career in city government and has been involved with Leander’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

“The previous council, the current council, they’re doing a good job in their efforts to attract business. I commend them for that,” Lantrip said.

She added that, rather than remove the city’s rules that are blocking business, they need to review and streamline other development processes.

“There’s been talk of, ‘Well, let’s throw out this ordinance or that ordinance,’ and I favor a more measured approach to that. Rather than throw out the ordinances, I think maybe first we should look at our processes … review the processes and periodically review certain ordinances to see if there’s anything we need to tweak, but I do think we need to maintain some standards.”

However, Place 3 candidate Jason Shaw, a retired Army chief, argues those are the very rules that are blocking businesses.

“Unfortunately in Leander, we’re tying our own hands,” Shaw said. “The difference between us and Hutto, Cedar Park, and Round Rock goes back to those ordinances and regulations. We have stacked ourselves with so many ordinances … and we’ve attached the title [of] “we want a higher standard,” but what we’ve really done is we’re not achieving a higher standard—we’re just getting bypassed at this point.”

Shaw said the solution is simple: Get rid of the city-created blockade.

“If we remove some of these ordinances that have just been too restrictive, we’re going to grow the way we want to grow,” he said.

Shaw’s opponent, small business owner Becki Ross, agreed that the city’s own rules are stifling new commercial activity. Ross said that, apart from the city providing a “comprehensive plan” for new development, “regulations outside of these parameters would hinder growth.”

Place 5 candidate Jeff Seiler is the only incumbent in the race, and thus the only one with a city council voting record. To address the stunted growth, he wants to create a corporate business park, streamline some development processes, and revamp the Leander business website.

“Affordability is a big deal,” Seiler said. “There’s not a lot of affordability here in Leander. We need to address that.”

Ironically, Seiler voted to raise taxes twice in his four-year tenure, though the other two years he did vote to lower the tax rate enough to keep the majority of homeowners’ city bills from increasing.

Seiler’s opponent, new home sales counselor Chris Czernek, pointed out that Seiler’s voting record actually contributed to the city’s current business desert.

“I think my opponent has had plenty of time to create business growth and entertainment opportunities for our families in his roughly 10 years of influence on boards, committees, and council,” Czernek said. “In this time, ordinances were created and approved that have made it harder for business partners to choose Leander. Council is now having to go back and reverse or significantly change those same regulations.”

Czernek echoed Parker and Shaw, saying he wants to “remove unnecessary restrictions that keep businesses, developers, and builders from wanting to work within our city limits.”

For Leander residents, who they choose in the upcoming election will make pivotal decisions to either open their city for a flood of new business growth (and lower property taxes) or continue to leave them stuck without local places to shop, eat, and work.

Early voting runs from April 22-30, with Election Day on May 4.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.