By Kathi Bliss
Despite a favorable recommendation from Mayor Lew White and concerns about property negotiations with city officials, the Lockhart City Council voted on Tuesday to block a zoning change that would allow the construction of a light-industrial factory and warehouse on Blackjack Street (FM 20E).
The change, subject to a public hearing during Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lockhart City Council, would have been necessary for Herbal Solutions to build their facility on the 13-acre tract near the Caldwell County Jail, and bordered by Valdez Street on the west.
Although a report from the Planning and Zoning Commission suggested that the business, which processes and sells herbs and spices for wholesale distribution for companies such as Sleepytime Teas, would be a “good fit” for Lockhart, the Commission suggested that the Lockhart Industrial Park would be a more appropriate location for the facility.
That causes a problem, however, according to the factory representative, because no properties in the Industrial Park suits their needs.
“Our objection to the Industrial Park is the price,” said Liberthad Robles, who represents the family-owned operation. “We are a small company, but we are foreseeing growth in the future.”
She had hoped that Lockhart would be a part of that growth, adding to their operations in San Antonio and Mexico City.
However, neighbors turned out in force, both during the council meeting and during a recent meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, to express concerns about the traffic, noise and pollution that might be brought to the area as a result of the facility.
Robles assured the council that the production, at the start, would take place during business hours, from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and that large truck traffic would be at a minimum, possibly as few as three to five trucks a month.
Further, she said, most of the outgoing shipping would be through Federal Express or UPS, or other such freight couriers.
Because of the neighborhood’s concerns, and the fact that City Planner Dan Gibson said the zoning change would not be in line with the future land use plan for the area, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the council deny the request for the zoning change. They recommended instead that the facility be located in the Industrial Park.
In the end, the council voted to uphold the Commission’s recommendation not to grant the zoning change, with instructions to City Staff to work harder with Robles and her company in an effort to negotiate a solution that would allow the company to build a facility in town.
White, standing against the rest of the council, said he felt the company deserved the support of the council and voted in favor of allowing the zoning change.
In other business, the council considered the idea of allowing commercial businesses to participate in the city’s level billing plan, which allows customers to pay the same amount for their electric bill each month, based on average usage over a year.
The plan, initially put in place to assist those on fixed incomes to manage their budgets, calls for the Electric Fund to “front” the cost for power in some cases, particularly in the summer months when power bills are higher, and allows customers to make up that difference during the winter months, when billing is lower.
Finance Director Jeff Hinson explained that allowing businesses to participate in the level billing program could potentially create a cash flow problem for the City, because commercial power bills are traditionally so much higher than residential bills, and because pains are taken by the Electric Department not to disconnect businesses for non-payment and instead to work with them to bring their accounts current when they become delinquent.
The council voted to leave the program as it stands, without allowing businesses to participate.
In brief news:
The council approved the bylaws for Keep Lockhart Beautiful, and approved a seven-member governing board for the organization.
The city committed to the Texas Department of Transportation to make drainage improvements on Highway 183 South, between Blackjack Street and the Lockhart Municipal Airport.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall.