Council considers changing liquor sale requirements
By LPR Staff
The Lockhart City Council considered a resolution on Tuesday evening to allow alcohol-based businesses such as bars to locate within 300 feet of churches or schools.
City Planner Dan Gibson brought the resolution before the council after a local business owner asked the council to consider a variance allowing her to relo
cate her business. As written, the Code of Ordinances does not spell out a procedure for notification and public hearings for such variances.
“We”re not actually considering the variance tonight,” Mayor James Bertram assured the concerned public. “We are looking at a way to put procedures in place to consider variances and allow the city to notify the public that variances are up for consideration.”
Currently, under city ordinance, an alcohol-based business cannot be located within 300 feet from a church, school or hospital. The ordinance, which is allowed by state law, does not contain procedures for allowing a variance. Some councilmembers believe that the procedures are not in place because the council that enacted the law did not intend for variances to be granted.
Three church leaders were on hand to oppose the notion of granting variances to the ordinance. Rev. Leo Miller from the First Assembly of God, who originally built his church near a bar in the late-80s, led the charge, reminding the council that while churches may not contribute to the city”s tax base, they contribute both to employment and the historical significance of the city.
“The churches [in the downtown area] are historical in their own right and contribute to the historical significance of the community,” he said. “I don”t personally know of a community that allows alcohol-related businesses to be built that close to a church or a school, and I think it”s disrespectful to consider allowing that. I think it”s a lack of giving proper value to what they contribute to the community.”
Father Robert Becker from St. Mary”s Catholic Church and Rev. Ira Darden from Rivers of Life agreed. They suggested that the council consider strict notification requirements if they do put procedures in place for variances to the ordinance.
After much discussion, the panel asked city attorney Peter Gruning to review the proposed ordinance and changes and report to the council what he believes would be the most effective way to proceed.
Currently, one business has asked for a variance, and that request is pending the council”s determination of a variance policy. Gibson said the business in question hopes to locate about 250 feet from a church.
The council continued the debate regarding impact fees, as the current ordinance allowing for a reduction of road impact fees for commercial construction expired on Tuesday.
Impact fees have fallen under heavy criticism from both commercial and residential developers since they were introduced five years ago. The fees are seen in some circles as a detriment to development. Of the three impact fees, road, water and wastewater, the road impact fee is the most controversial, as Lockhart is the only city in the area that charges a road impact fee, and the road impact fee is the highest of the three.
The council has been grappling with the problem for more than two years.
“There is a general view among the citizens that the road impact fee is stifling growth within the community,” said Councilmember Dick Wieland. “It”s not going to create the revenue that it was designed to, and I wonder if there is any other type of device to achieve the funding that we need.”
Councilmember Lew White added that he had talked with Lockhart”s leading commercial builder, who noted that he chooses his jobs with impact fees in mind.
“He decides to rehabilitate and remodel properties instead of doing new construction,” White said. “And he is our most active commercial builder.”
After staunch defense of the road impact fees for the last several months, Bertram also agreed that there was a need to change the impact fees.
“I was going to bring a recommendation that the road impact fee be reduced to zero for a period of time,” he said. “It could be used as an economic stimulus, and we might be shown that the road impact fee is getting in the way.”
Although the council could not act on doing away with road impact fees, they did instruct Gibson to bring an ordinance before the council in the near future to do away with road impact fees for the period of one year.
In brief council news:
The city will contract with Austin-based law firm McCrary, Veselka, Bragg and Allen to perform collections on outstanding warrants from the municipal court. According to Court Administrator Bonnie Townsend, the court has cleared 1,500 warrants this year, but has issued another 1,424 and has more $600,000 in outstanding warrants awaiting collection. The firm”s fees will be paid with the 30 percent collection fee added to outstanding warrants.
The council approved the Lockhart Fire Department”s plan to apply for a grant to purchase new protective equipment, air packs and air bottles. According to Fire Chief Jerry Doyle, much of the department”s equipment is nearing the end of its usefulness, and some firefighters are equipped with protective gear that is 10 years old. Matching funds from the city are not a requirement for the grant.
The council assigned disbursements of the hotel-motel tax to several local organizations. The Lockhart Chamber of Commerce will receive the greater portion of the tax revenues, just over 60 percent. The council earmarked 20 percent for the Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 7.5 percent for each of Lockhart”s two community theater groups and just under 4 percent for the Caldwell County Museum.
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.