By Miranda Rogers
There comes a point in time when every city is faced with the opportunity for growth. Lockhart is facing that crossroads now.
On Nov. 16, 2011, several Lockhart citizens came to the council with warring opinions concerning the suggestion to change a city ordinance to allow bars and taverns in Downtown Lockhart. The issue began as a request from the council, and though any zoning changes were opposed 6-1 by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the council opted to make their decision based on what they heard from other Lockhart residents.
First to speak was Paul Rodriguez, who was against the idea, convinced that alcohol in the area would lead to violence. He said the ordinance was fulfilling its purpose of promoting public safety and peace.
Leo Miller, who started a church in Lockhart and has a family with nine children, said the issue was not about the vicinity of churches in the area, but about community. He worried about the safety of his daughters, who he said often take evening walks and sometimes find themselves on the Square during those walks. Gary Rodgers, a pastor as well, also supported family orientation in Lockhart.
Tammy Francis disagreed with this view, telling the council the current ordinance keeps Lockhart from growing, and saying the community needs “more excitement downtown.”
Francis also has children, but said she is not afraid of bars on the Square. While Miller mentioned that the ordinance had been changed for a reason, Francis believed that now, 30-50 years later, the community is in a different mindset and the laws are in places to prevent “low-class bars.”
Janet Christian, speaking on behalf of the Gaslight-Baker Theatre, said that group also has long-term plans for their Haun Building expansion, where they need liquor sales to help cover expenses for activities such as murder mystery theatre, poetry slam and open mic nights. She said the theatre could use the building as a side-stage and small event venue, making it a valuable resource, but that the ordinance as it stood was blocking that potential from being realized.
It was also discussed that public urination could possibly be an issue, but was countered with the fact that with many public events that involved alcohol, there was no issue with that subject.
While the potential of litter was also brought to light, the efforts currently given by the one grandfathered “bar” in the Downtown Business District influenced the council that this problem could be controlled as well. However, much confusion was voiced when deciding how to define a dance hall. While studios are allowed downtown, and nobody can stop someone from dancing in a bar, no council member supported a “saloon-type” business in Lockhart.
After all this, outgoing Mayor Ray Sanders pointed out, “we’re very limited. We don’t have a river… how do we get them on the Square?” He also noted there was a “Difference between an upscale lounge and dump bar.”
Sanders and other council members agreed that if they changed the ordinance and it did not work out, they could change it back.
“We have another shot at saying ‘no, this is not what we want,’” he said. Councilmember Paul Gomez was confident that with recommendations on restrictions and the influence of the police department they could control the environment. The issue was approved for bars and taverns, but not dance halls, in downtown Lockhart 5-2.
Councilmembers Juan Mendoza and John Castillo cast the dissenting votes, both stating they believed the council should back the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
When the ordinance is changed, bars and taverns will be allowed via Specific Use Permit (SUP) only. Therefore, the approval process will require applications and fees, as well as public hearings before Planning and Zoning, and an option to appeal to the City Council if the SUP is denied.
In other business:
Discussion for City of Lockhart employee benefits has moved council to accept bids from Aetna for medical and dental benefits, and Lincoln Financial for life benefits. Department head Jeff Hinson reported that all savings summed up to roughly $55,000 below budget.
While the bid was awarded, Councilmember Richard Banks voiced his concern that Finance Director Jeff Hinson did not factor in loss ratio, or how much was spent toward claim or the degree to which the company denied claims.
Hinson reminded Banks that it was Federal law that companies only take 10 percent for themselves, and assured him of his reliance in checking denied claims.
While looking for ways to fund the $3.1 million necessary for the Highway 183 expansion project, council discussed authorization of an application from the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) for financial assistance and subsequent borrowing. They also considered the option of a 1 percent discount for being a disadvantaged county, with a recommended 20-year lock-in rate to loosen cash flow.
They will not be able to make a decision on the funding process until January, when they will be able to determine what lines must be moved, and to where.
Sanders proclaimed Dec. 5-9 as “Tree of Angels Week,” in honor of all people who have been involved in violent crime and those who assist those the victims. The Lockhart Victim Assistance Team will host the local Tree of Angels Ceremony at First Lockhart Baptist Church on Monday, Dec. 5, beginning at 7 p.m.
The council approved the order for the upcoming runoff election between Richard Banks and Jimmy “James” Bertram for the District 4 Single-Member seat. The election is slated to be held Dec. 12, 2011, with early voting being scheduled from Dec. 5 – 9.
After the regular business meeting, the council held a special ceremony to swear in incoming Mayor Lew White and incoming District Three Councilmember Richard J. “Dick” Wieland. They also recognized Sanders and his wife, Valerie, for their contributions to the community over the years.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.