Council stalemate stalls new retail project

Council stalemate stalls new retail project

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Despite the unanimous recommendations of the council-appointed Planning and Zoning Commission, the Lockhart City Council came to a 3-3-1 stalemate on a vote to block a zoning change of two parcels at the corner of San Antonio and Mockingbird Streets, near the entrance to the Windridge subdivision. The property owner had requested the change in the hopes of building and operating, among other things, a neighborhood-oriented convenience store, and the Planning and Zoning Commission supported the change.

More than two dozen residents of the neighborhood addressed the council en masse, voicing their concerns that allowing the convenience store would inevitably bring higher crime, public drunkenness and increased traffic to their neighborhood; recent police reports indicate that the crime and public drunkenness concerns might be unfounded, as such calls to existing convenience stores are few and far between.

“Convenience stores are a known hangout for predators,” said Windridge resident Mary Bryant. “Our kids walk through that intersection on their way to Bluebonnet, and predators know the behavior of sitting in the parking lot, getting to know the children and infiltrating them.”

Jeffrey Goodwin, a recent addition to the neighborhood, said that he and his family had moved to Windridge for the quiet neighborhood life, specifically to avoid such commercial development, and noted he and his wife chose Lockhart because it is close enough to Austin, San Marcos and Kyle for his family to get the things they need, outside Lockhart’s local economy.

Citing concerns about increased traffic, longtime San Antonio Street resident Connie Tello recounted a traffic accident she was involved in, trying to turn off Highway 142 into her own driveway.

“She asked me why I slowed down like I did, and I told her I was just trying to get to my home,” she said.

Some councilmembers were swayed by the passionate testimony, noting that while growth was surely coming to the area, this might not be the right time for “that kind” of growth. A convenience store is contained in the master plan for Centerpoint, located at the intersection of Highway 142 and SH 130, just a mile to the west. The timeline for that development, however, remains in limbo.

Property owner and project developer Meredith Knight offered the council a detailed presentation, showing not only the building materials and landscaping concept developed for the Windridge Market, but also a traffic study and anecdotal reports of residents of the subdivision who, upon hearing the complete plan for the store, were swayed from opposition to support.

“But of course, because there are so many people against it, of course she didn’t want to come forward and make it known that [this store] will make her life easier,” Knight said.

Additionally, she reported, and independent traffic study reported upwards of 11,000 “habitual users” of the intersection, and she said she would be happy to work with both the neighborhood and the school to ensure the safety of not only pedestrians, but motorists in the vicinity of the business.

Also, she cautioned the council, Tuesday evening’s hearing was not to discuss the specific use of the property, but rather the zoning, which Assistant City Planner Kevin Waller said was consistent with the City’s future land use plan, which shows the property targeted for light- to medium-commercial use in the future.

Despite that, Windridge resident Annalisa Mayfield delivered a thinly-veiled threat, noting a council decision to grant the zoning change could be considered “spot zoning.” City Manager Vance Rodgers assured the Council that Mayfield’s assertion was false.

Citing both projects already “in the pipe,” and those slated for the area in the future, Mayor Lew White said he felt this is the right time to grant the zoning change, but noted the City would continue to work with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to find innovative funding and construction methods to help improve traffic conditions on San Antonio Street. Much of the traffic can be attributed to the construction of Lockhart Junior High and Bluebonnet Elementary School, neither of which were on the community radar when Windridge broke ground in 2000, and to a recent increase in Lockhart-to-San Marcos commuters.

“We’ve had to address several zoning issues, in spite of residential resistance to the changes,” White said. “But the truth is that the future of Highway 142 is commercial development. We’ve grappled with this property for 17 years.”

Councilmember Juan Mendoza said that, while he understands the concerns of the neighborhood residents, he also feels that it is time to move forward with the development of the property.

Councilmember Brad Westmoreland disagreed.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but I just don’t think this is the right time,” Westmoreland said. “With the condition of Highway 142 what it is right now, I think we’d just be exacerbating an existing problem.”

Mayor Pro Tem Angie Gonzales-Sanchez also stood against the zoning change, noting that while she appreciates Knight’s interest in the project, she was worried about the inherent dangers that a convenience store might bring to the neighborhood.

“It’s our job to look out for the safety of our residents,” she said.

Councilmember Benny Hilburn, by virtue of family interests in large amounts of property in the area, recused himself both from the discussion and the vote.

After several hours of discussion, Councilmember John Castillo made the motion to reject the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendations on both tracts of property, with seconds offered by Gonzales-Sanchez. Each of the motions failed 3-3-1, meaning that no zoning change will take place.

The property owner may reapply for a zoning change in six months.

In other business, the Council heard an extensive presentation from Houston-based consultants who would like to help the City develop innovative financing tools to improve infrastructure and amenities within Lockhart.

The group discussed projects they have completed in the Houston and Dallas Metropolitan areas, which cultivate public-private partnerships to build infrastructure and amenities financed up front by developers, reimbursed by the municipality at a later time through the creation of a Tax Increment Funding (TIF) District. They did not offer extensive information on how TIF districts are structured or funded, or on what projects might be targeted for those sorts of development.

In brief news:

The Council unanimously approved a zoning change for properties on Blackjack Street (FM 20E) and Lovers Lane, which will open the door for a proposed residential subdivision which could add up to 70 new homes to the city’s current residential inventory.

They entered a contract with the Caldwell County Elections Office to hold an election in November for the Mayor, as well as Councilmembers Place 3 and 4. Filing for the election opens on July 22.

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.

kathibliss@post-register

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