By Kathi Bliss
During their regular meeting on Tuesday evening, the Lockhart City Council grappled with the logistics of a growing community built upon business interests bordering residential neighborhoods.
A request brought forth by property owner Jim Smith and business developer Conley Covert had the council struggling with the question of whether to allow a warehousing and distribution center to locate on the razor’s edge of a residential neighborhood. The request centered around the Smith’s former office property located at 319 S. Church St.
According to Covert, who recently purchased two historic properties in the Downtown Historic District, the property provides a unique opportunity for would-be occupants of one of his buildings to set up distribution and sales to both local and regional retail outlets. His plan, which remains unofficial pending a changing of the zoning to allow the warehouse interests, would include not only shipping and distribution from the warehouse site, but office and retail spaces fronting Church Street.
“The ideal space for this business is between 5,000 – 10,000 square feet,” Covert explained to the council. “There aren’t many buildings available in that range within Lockhart.”
According to the plan Covert set forth, the distribution business would use the back portion of the .531-acre lot, which has street access on Blanco Street, as parking space, but also as a loading area for trucks to load, “early and late.”
Covert said initially the business, which he declined to elaborate on, would initially employ “box trucks,” but could feasibly extend to semi-truck hauling, as the business grows.
“It would be essentially the same as [other downtown businesses] who receive their deliveries early in the day, and then the trucks clear out to make way for parking, but the businesses have the inventory they need to do business,” he said.
However, under the current zoning, Commercial Medium Business, warehouse and distribution centers are not allowed, and no “specific use permit” process is in place to allow them.
That fact, Covert said, is the greatest challenge to his business plan. In fact, he noted, he is not concerned with changing the zoning, per se, provided the City make available a means for warehousing to be located at the property.
In regards to the zoning change, seven area property owners sent letters to the council in opposition to the change, mostly noting increased truck traffic, and the doors for other “less desirable” businesses that would be possible, should Conley’s proposed business fail.
“I don’t know if you know this, but our little neighborhood has become a pass through for HEB traffic, for LISD buses, and now they’re asking for semi trucks and box trucks next door to the church,” said Melissa Williams, who lives nearby on Guadalupe Street. “I think that’s something you should think about long and hard.”
Conversely, Gina Lozano, who lives directly to the north of the subject property, said she saw no problem with the proposed change.
“I don’t know that it would make a significant change,” Lozano said. “But what we would like to see is the property occupied [by someone] who would take a more active interest in upkeep of the property.”
Because the building has been vacant and used as storage for some time, Lozano noted there was a rise in vermin, and occasionally pollution flowing into the drainage canal that separates her home from the subject property.
“One of the things you have to think about in a growing community is the fact that the businesses have to have suppliers here.”
Lozano said she and her husband had initially planned to speak against the zoning change, but after researching the uses allowed on the property versus the uses that would be allowed after the change, they decided to throw their support behind the proposed change.
The council had a more difficult time. While most members noted their support and empathy for the residents in the area who were against the project, they also suggested they understood the value of a pro-business action in the matter.
Councilmember Jeffry Michelson, who himself lives on a major local thoroughfare, made a motion to pass the zoning change outright, and received a second on the motion from Councilmember Juan Mendoza.
The rest of the council, however, had other ideas, and the motion failed 2-5.
Instead, the council discussed, as had been suggested by City Planner Dan Gibson, an idea of revamping the zoning ordinance itself to allow property owners to request specific use permits in Commercial Medium Business areas.
That change, they noted, would allow for certain protections for the neighborhood, in that the current zoning would remain in place, should the proposed business fail.
That motion passed unanimously.
In other business, the council spent more than an hour hearing presentations from several local non-profit organizations requesting their share of the Hotel and Motel Tax (HOT) revenue.
HOT money has been a hot topic for years with the council, as the collection and distribution of those taxes is related directly to organizations’ ability to put “heads in beds,” and the money allocated to each organization must be spent specifically for that purpose – to drive tourism.
The Lockhart City Council will consider and approve making those allocations during their next meeting.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m.in the third floor council chambers of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Spectrum Cable Channel 10. They are also available to view online at www.lockhart-tx.org.